Posted : 2009-09-10 18:58
Updated : 2009-09-10 18:58

Pyongyang May Weaponize Water

A helicopter of the Army’s air operations command lifts a submerged vehicle at the Imjin River in Yeoncheon-gun, Gyeonggi Province, Thursday, three days after North Korea released a large amount of water without notice, causing the death of six South Koreans.
/ Courtesy of Army’s Air Operations Command
North Korea Can Flood or Drain South

By Kang Hyun-kyung
Staff Reporter

South Korea learned a bitter lesson from its northern neighbor's release of 40 million tons of water from a dam without prior notice last weekend. Water can be used as a weapon.

As government agencies search for North Korea's "real" intent, an expert has called on them to chart a strategy for water resources security.

Kim Sang-ug, a legislative researcher of the Division of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs at the National Assembly Research Service, said Thursday that North Korea's selfish use of water in rivers near the border can cause South Korea to face water shortages.

Kim warned the government over the possibility of drought if the North fails to allow water out of its dams.

The unannounced flooding into the downstream of the Imjin River caused the death of six South Koreans camping near the border area when water levels in the river suddenly rose two meters.

"There is an array of small and large dams in the North near the border, and this can lead South Korea to face water shortages. No policy responses have been set in place to cope with the problem," Kim told The Korea Times.

South Korea built the Peace Dam stretching from Yanggu to Hwacheon, Gangwon Province, in 2005 to stave off possible catastrophic flooding if the Imnam Dam in Wonsan, North Korea, collapsed.

The North Korean dam, which was completed in 2003, is reportedly vulnerable due to poor construction.

In addition, the Gunnam Dam in Yeoncheon, Gyeonggi Province in the South, is under construction to control water levels there to prevent possible future mishaps. Unification Minister Hyun In-taek said the dam will be completed within two years.

Despite the relative preparedness for announced floods in the future, Kim pointed out that there were neither facilities nor tools to fight drought, indicating South Koreans can suffer another type of water attack - water shortages - if the North deliberately holds back resources.

A Korea Water Resources Corporation report found that the amount of water reaching the Hwacheon Dam in the South decreased by 43 percent after the Imnam Dam in the North, which was designed to generate power and increase its water supply, was built.

The report also said another North Korean dam on the Imjin River is under construction to provide industries and households in Gaeseong with water and power and that the water situation in South Korea will be worsened when it is completed.

Although aware of the situation, experts say a lack of information about water systems and dam facilities in North Korea makes it difficult for South Korea to lay out effective water resources management in regard to the two rivers stretching across the two countries.

Policymakers also find it challenging to deal with their counterparts in the North who rarely play by the rules.

International norms encourage nations sharing streams with their neighboring states to inform them in advance when they plan to release dam catchments.

North Korea failed to follow the norm and the recent tragedy in the Imjin River was the result.

Earlier, Hyun said his ministry was considering proposing inter-Korean talks to set norms and rules on the use and discharge of water in the joint rivers.
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