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South Korea is dealing with the worst flooding in 80 years

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Three days of record rainfall have left at least nine people dead and seven missing in and around the South Korean capital. As NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports from Seoul, South Korea's worst flooding in 80 years has focused attention on the country's role in the global climate crisis.

(SOUNDBITE OF WATER RUSHING)

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Residents uploaded videos to social media showing pedestrians wading through waist-high waters in Seoul's affluent Gangnam District, backed-up drains erupting onto city streets and torrents of water cascading into subway stations. On Tuesday, President Yoon Suk-yeol visited a basement apartment where flash floods killed a family of three on Monday night. Yoon told a government meeting Wednesday that South Korea's disaster management needs to be updated to deal with extreme weather events caused by climate change.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT YOON SUK-YEOL: (Speaking Korean).

KUHN: "We should not stop at noting that these events are unprecedented in our meteorological history," he said. "We must expect these kind of weather events to become more frequent in the future and be prepared with fundamental measures."

Ahn Jae-hun is director of the energy and climate section at an activist group called the Korea Federation for Environmental Movement. He notes that environmental awareness is on the rise in South Korea, especially among the younger generation.

AHN JAE-HUN: (Through interpreter) The government has enacted measures, even though many think those are not enough. But it's difficult to say the entire nation is active in resolving climate crisis.

KUHN: Ahn points out that South Korea is reliant on steel, electronics, chemicals and other heavy industries that emit a lot of carbon. The country also relies on fossil fuels for 60% to 70% of its energy. He says South Korea needs to cut emissions faster to avert catastrophic global warming. And, he adds, it needs to make development more sustainable in Seoul, which is home to roughly half the country's population.

AHN: (Through interpreter) The capital area is beyond overcrowded. The region's environment is so damaged, it can't fully function as a city.

KUHN: Ahn says Korean environmental groups have called for the greening of Seoul's urban areas in order to restore the city's ecological functions, but he says it's an uphill battle.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Seoul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.

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