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[Editorial] Fear of quakes

Korea should increase buildings’ resistance

South Korea is not a haven from earthquakes. Though it is not located along the Pacific’s “Ring of Fire,” which covers Alaska, California, Mexico, Peru, Chile Japan and Indonesia, the nation is adjacent to the seismic belt.

The earthquake damage in Kumamoto prefecture, Japan and the central coast of Ecuador over the past week point to the urgent need for taking what preemptive measures society can to minimize the number of victims in natural disasters. Kumamoto prefecture was reportedly able to reduce its death toll as it had thoroughly studied the Kobe Earthquake of 1995. A knock-on effect from the first quake was seen along the belt less than a week later, on Tonga in the South Pacific.

Korea has seen the number of quake occurrences increase over the past few decades -- 16 cases in in the 1980s, 26 in the 1990s and 44 in the 2000s. In 2013 alone, 91 quakes were recorded, according to data from the Korea Meteorological Administration.

Statistics held by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transportation show that the nation has been negligent in mapping out countermeasures.

It is regrettable that only 34.6 percent of buildings across the country have been made quake-proof. This means more than 6 out of 10 buildings nationwide were not designed to be earthquake-resistant.

Further, in Seoul just 26.7 percent of buildings are quake-proof, as only 75,528 out of 282,830 studied buildings meet standards. Other major cities -- Busan, Incheon and Daegu -- also are below the nationwide average. Policymakers should particularly be aware that the four most densely populated cities are the most critically vulnerable.

Last December, a magnitude-3.9 earthquake occurred in Iksan, North Jeolla Province, The temblor, whose epicenter was about 8 kilometers north of Iksan, was the strongest in 2015, though no casualties or damage were reported. The quake was felt as far away as Busan and Seoul among some residents.

A quake with a magnitude of 3.7 took place in waters 22 kilometers off Seogwipo City in August 2015, and one with a magnitude of 3.5 was felt 18 kilometers away from Yeonpyeongdo Island near Incheon in January 2015.

Since the nation started its earthquake observation 38 years ago, there have even been some cases with a magnitude of 5 or more. Those were reported from Boeun in North Chungcheong Province, and Taean and Hongseong in South Chungcheong Province.

Geologists at home and abroad are issuing the possibility that earthquakes in more countries will be common in the coming decade.

The government should initially map out a tougher assessment manual for rating buildings as “seismic-proof” as a mid- and long-term basis countermeasure, alongside direct participation in relief activities overseas. A catastrophe may come when you least expect it.