Living next to an erratic, nuclear-armed North Korea is not the most distressing aspect of life in South Korea, according to a new study. That distinction goes to air pollution, ranked number one in a national survey. The spectre of North Korea’s nuclear programme ranked fifth, after economic stagnation, the South’s ageing population and water pollution. Only natural disasters were of less concern in the study conducted by the government-affiliated Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs.
The report says South Koreans view environmental problems as more relevant to their lives, compared with threats from the North. North Korea has in the past threatened to turn Seoul into a “sea of fire”, and Kim Jong-un’s regime has thousands of pieces of artillery and rockets that can strike the South Korean capital. The survey was conducted in 2017, at a time when Donald Trump and the North Korean leader were openly trading insults and threats of mutual destruction. But South Koreans have lived with their heavily armed, vitriolic neighbour to the north for decades and the vast majority of young people do not view the Kim regime as an imminent threat. The most recent outbreak of violence was in 2010: 50 people were killed when North Korea shelled an island near the border and sank a navy corvette.
South Korea has the worst air quality among the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a group of 35 developed economies, followed by Poland and South Africa. Levels of harmful fine particulate matter, which have been found to penetrate deep into the lungs and are associated with cancer and respiratory ailments, are nearly three times World Health Organization guidelines. “I’m directly breathing this toxic, polluted air on my way to work and home every day, knowing that it will cause me all sorts of diseases in the next decade, like lung cancer and inflammation in the brain if we don’t stop it now,” said one office worker in Seoul, according to The Korea Herald. Many in South Korea blame pollution wafting over the border from China, but much of it is locally produced, according to experts.
Credit: Benjamin Haas for The Guardian, 16 May 2018.