Water Resources Engineering (WRE) connects to economic, environmental, and societal issues. Our student Grace Anderson makes this connection in South Korea. This current event was reported in The Korea Herald on July 6, 2016, under the title “N.K. Unleashes Flash Flood from Dam Without Warning Seoul” by Shin Hyon-hee. This event was predicted by Bloomberg in the U.S. on July 4th, 2016, in an article titled “South Korea Fears Flooding From North Discharging Dam Water” by Shinhye Kang, since heavy rainfall occurred just days before North Korea released the dam, causing problems for South Korea and Seoul. The Daily Mail in the U.K. reported the event, sharing videos from Korean students of a library catastrophically flooding at Yonsei University in Seoul.

This event is related to water resources engineering because it affected South Korea’s capacity for flooding and stormwater management. The event happened after a significant rainfall event, which caused the Hwanggang dam on the Imjin River to fill up which motivated North Korea to release some of the water from it. This event highlights the “triple bottom line” aspect of engineering also, since politics clearly play a large role in the international sharing of water resources between North and South Korea. The two nations have an agreement from 2009 in which the North pledged to warn the South of any dam discharge, which they broke when they flooded South Korea unexpectedly in this event. South Korea immediately warned people living near the affected areas to evacuate, cautioning citizens of potential mudslides and dangerous flooding. Seoul’s roads, rivers, and canals were flooded since they were not built for such a sudden massive flood. This event was likely larger than any design flood, such as a 50-year, since it was essentially man-made and it also occurred shortly after a period of heavy rain so the capital was already managing a lot of stormwater. This is an important event because it exemplifies the important role that water resources play in politics. The South Korean military did not identify the sudden opening of the dam as a deliberate flooding attack, but the event surely heightened tensions between the two governments. The Korea Herald article states that the Unification Ministry in Seoul “urg[ed] Pyongyang [North Korea] to follow through on the agreement” that they made in 2009. A ministry spokesperson is quoted saying, “North Korea… should show that it’s willing to cooperate on little things like the water discharge.” Clearly water resources play an important role in more than just engineering. The Korea Herald did not include enough engineering information in their report of this event. Author Shin stated that the waterways in the Imjin River region widened from 80 to 280 meters, but no other relevant data was cited. To fully understand the impact of this event on Seoul and other impacted regions of South Korea, a flow or volume estimate or measured value should have been given.

Figure 1: Flooding in Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea. This photo is a still from a YouTube video posted by a student after the catastrophic event.

North and South Korea have had a politically tumultuous relationship for a long time, and issues such as the North flooding the river into the South by releasing water from the Hwanggang dam near their Southern border are a symptom of that. This event relates to economic issues in that the municipalities of Seoul and other affected cities in South Korea had to repair and replace damage property and flooded roads, canals, and water treatment facilities. It relates to environmental issues because the canals and waterways were widened so greatly, which very likely had an impact on fish and other aquatic life habitats. This event relates to social issues because it destroyed farms, homes, businesses, and schools throughout the Imjin region of South Korea, including in the megacity capital Seoul. The article mentions that last May, North Korea did the same thing with the Hwanggang dam and it hurt fishing families in the South who lost their fishing gear and thus their livelihood.  I have found that the economic impacts on a mega city under flood conditions was also reported by Jennifer Rhodes in 1996, who wrote that “hydraulic events… account for more losses than any other natural disaster” and that the damage caused by flooding on highways specifically was not only problematic for the high repair costs, but also in the “lost productivity and commerce for local business and industry” (Rhodes, 1996). This cause-effect between flooding and economic impacts to cities occurs when floods overtop their floodplains or their rivers/canals, and the floodwater reaches structures that are unprepared for the depth and/or momentum of the flowing or still floodwater. This damage causes economic stress on the cities that must repair the affected structures, such as highways mentioned by Rhodes.

References

  1. The Korea Herald. “N.K. Unleashes Flash Flood from Dam Without Warning Seoul”, 2016. Web. 31 Mar. 2017.
  2. Kang, Shinhye. “South Korea Fears Flooding From North Discharging Dam Water.” Bloomberg. N.p. 2016. Web. 31 Mar. 2017.
  3. Mallinson, Harriet. “Terrifying Moment Water Cascades Through University Library Ceiling”. Daily Mail. N.p. 2016. Web. 31 Mar. 2017.
  4. Rhodes, Jennifer. “Economics of Floods, Scour, and Bride Failures”. Hydraulic Engineering 1 (1993): n. pag. Web. 1 Apr. 2017.
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