Seoul should respond strongly to dam water releases

Following the unexpected release of water from North Korea’s
Hwanggang Dam earlier this month, concerns are mounting about a subsequent
incident, which, if severe, could cause overwhelming damage to areas in South
Korea’s Gyeonggi Province and further afield.

The South must remain vigilant at the possibility of
intentional flooding induced by the North at all times. Throughout this
reporter’s tenure in the North Korean military in the late 1980s, he was
repeatedly informed during political lectures that Kumgangsan Power Station
(Imnam Dam) was constructed as an integral part of North Korea’s ‘water
offensive’ and ‘flooding strategy’ with concerns to its southern neighbor.
Pyongyang purported the dam was designed to provide power to Kangwon Province
and areas near the demilitarized zone, but residents in the area would
assuredly tell you otherwise–were they given the chance.

High water levels on the Imjin and Han Rivers after heavy
rainfall, the higher-ups at these lectures frequently postulated, coupled with
a high tide in the West Sea, would create the perfect conditions for Pyongyang
to open its sluice gates and “flood Seoul in an instant.” This is made possible
because Hwanggang Dam, located at the Imjin River, and Imnam Dam, positioned at the Bukhan River, are both tributaries of the Han River and run north
to southwestward. 

In 2009, again without prior notification, Pyongyang
released water from Hwanggang Dam. The reckless action claimed the lives of six
South Koreans who were camping or fishing along the banks of the Imjin River. This
tragedy led to a verbal deal in October, wherein the North agreed to notify the
South ahead of dam water releases; however, with the exception of four cases,
it has routinely unleashed walls of water on its end without warning.

The potential for further disaster is irrefutable. Yet the
author finds it very troubling that many, if not most, here in the South seem blasé
about the situation. Even more confounding are those, be it to comfort
themselves or because they genuinely believe it, who claim that this latest
move was actually just the North adjusting water levels on its side of the dam.

North Korea doubtless grasps the foolhardiness of a water
release during a period of heightened scrutiny, and as such, at least in the
short term, we should expect to see Pyongyang employ more thinly veiled tactics
in a bid to ascertain the speed, diversity, and durability of Seoul’s

South Korea must therefore send out a strong message of
warning to the North. It must emphasize that ambush flooding is considered a
provocation that threatens lives and property, not unlike its nuclear and
missile tests. The new emergency preparedness measures implemented by Seoul’s
Korea Rural Community Corporation are a promising start, but in order to
provide the public with a greater sense of reassurance, Seoul should strengthen
its countermeasures and step up its monitoring of this and related developments
in the North.