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Korea lags OECD average in disaster management

Seoul’s capability to deal with disasters is relatively poor and stood at 25th place among 34 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, according to a report released on Monday.

“Korea was assessed to be sensitive to disasters, but was subpar in terms of establishing the infrastructure to prevent them,” said a study on government competence jointly conducted by Seoul National University’s Knowledge Center for Public Administration & Policy and Research Center for Government Competitiveness.

“Furthermore, the recent sinking of the Sewol ferry had shown the country’s lack of efforts to manage disasters,” it said, referring to the fatal accident in April 2014 that left over 300 dead or missing.

The report assessed the frequency of disasters, prevention and response systems, and the government’s overall efforts to recover from such disasters. Korea’s disaster management index was 0.467, while Ireland ranked first with 0.758.

Japan, which is much more prone to natural disasters like earthquakes than Korea, showed it is far more proficient in risk management by ranking 11th with 0.580.

The Sewol incident, considered one of the worst maritime disasters in the country’s history, reflects how poorly the country was prepared to cope with catastrophes. The vessel lay on its side for hours before capsizing completely and plunging into the water, yet the rescuers were unable to save more than 60 percent of the passengers.

In response to a public outcry that mounted in the disaster’s aftermath, the government announced a system overhaul by disbanding the Coast Guard and creating the Ministry of Public Safety and Security. But the report said the government merely made the Coast Guard a “scapegoat,” and called its measures a “shortsighted response.”

Besides risk management, the report showed Korea was also inadequate in education and welfare policies, ranking 30th in both categories.

However, the country showed strong performance in sectors like the economy, ICT and R&D, ranking No. 7, 9 and 11 respectively.

The overall competence of the Korean government was ranked No. 18, down four notches from 2013. The U.S. took the top spot for the second straight year.

By Yoon Min-sik (