The deaths, which included a household who drowned after changing into trapped underground, have spurred the South Korean capital to place an finish to individuals residing in “banjiha” houses — the customarily cramped and dingy basement flats made well-known by the film “Parasite.”
The household of three — a girl in her 40s with Down syndrome, her sister, and the sister’s 13-year-old daughter — died after water strain prevented them from opening the door of their flooded residence in Seoul’s southern Gwanak district.
On Monday night time, torrential rain — the town’s heaviest in additional than 100 years — brought on extreme flooding in lots of low-lying neighborhoods south of the Han River, sweeping automobiles away and forcing a whole bunch to evacuate.
Typically small, darkish and vulnerable to mould in the course of the humid summer season, banjihas gained world notoriety following the discharge of Bong Joon-ho’s Oscar-winning 2019 film “Parasite,” which adopted a fictional household’s determined try to flee poverty. The houses have since come to characterize rampant inequality in one of many world’s wealthiest cities.
For years, there have been rising requires the federal government to offer extra inexpensive housing, enhance residing circumstances in banjihas, or section them out altogether — which officers pledged to do following public outcry over President Yoon Suk Yeol’s dealing with of the disaster.
“Sooner or later, in Seoul, basements and semi-basements (banjihas) is not going to be allowed for use for residential functions,” the Seoul metropolis authorities mentioned in an announcement on Wednesday.
Nonetheless, consultants say the federal government’s promise overlooks bigger issues that persist past the basement partitions, of skyrocketing residing prices that power probably the most susceptible individuals to hunt shelter in substandard housing inclined to floods and warmth — among the worst results of local weather change.
Bunkers to growth
Banjihas have been first constructed within the Seventies to function bunkers amid rising tensions with North Korea, mentioned Choi Eun-yeong, govt director of the Korea Heart for Metropolis and Atmosphere Analysis.
As Seoul modernized within the following decade, attracting migrants from rural areas, diminishing house prompted the federal government to permit residential use of the basements — although they have been “not constructed for residential functions, however for air raid shelters, boiler rooms or warehouses,” mentioned Choi.
Banjihas have lengthy been riddled with issues reminiscent of poor air flow and drainage, water leakage, lack of simple escape routes, insect infestation, and publicity to micro organism. However their low value is a serious draw as Seoul turns into extra unaffordable — particularly for younger individuals who face stagnating wages, rising rents and a saturated job market.
The security considerations relating to banjihas have been thrust to the fore when extreme flooding in 2010 and 2011 left dozens useless. In 2012, the federal government carried out new legal guidelines prohibiting banjiha flats in “habitually flooded areas.”
However the try at reform fell brief, with 40,000 extra banjihas constructed after the legislation handed, based on a information launch by metropolis authorities.
Officers once more vowed to analyze the difficulty after “Parasite” shone a highlight on banjihas — however they have been quickly sidetracked by the Covid-19 pandemic, Choi mentioned.
As of 2020, greater than 200,000 banjiha flats remained in downtown Seoul — making up about 5% of all households, based on the Nationwide Statistical Workplace.
Together with its failure to enhance housing, the town authorities got here beneath fireplace this yr after slashing its annual finances for flood management and water assets administration by greater than 15% to 17.6 billion gained ($13.5 million).
The household who died in Gwanak could not escape their condo as a result of water increase exterior their door, mentioned Choi Tae-young, head of the Seoul Metropolitan Hearth and Catastrophe Headquarters.
The fireplace and rescue chief accompanied President Yoon to the location of the deaths on Tuesday, the place they inspected the constructing and interviewed a few of its residents. Photographs present the president squatting on the road, peering by the ground-level window into the still-flooded basement condo.
“I do not know why the individuals right here did not evacuate upfront,” Yoon mentioned in the course of the inspection — a comment that has since been extensively criticized on-line.
“Water got here in instantly,” one resident replied.
“It took lower than 10 or quarter-hour (for the water to rise),” one other resident mentioned, including that the victims “lived very, very troublesome lives.”
In its assertion Wednesday, the Seoul metropolis authorities mentioned it could section out basement and banjiha flats “in order that they can’t be inhabited by individuals, no matter ordinary flooding or flood-prone areas.”
Banjihas are “a backward housing sort that threatens the housing-vulnerable in all elements, together with security and residential setting, and will now be eradicated,” mentioned Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon.
The elimination course of will embody a “grace interval” of 10 to twenty years for current banjihas with constructing permits, and tenants might be helped to maneuver into public rental housing, or obtain housing vouchers, the federal government mentioned in an announcement. After banjihas have been cleared, they are going to be transformed for non-residential use, it added.
Choi Eun-yeong, the city setting researcher, expressed skepticism over the federal government’s purported dedication to eliminating banjihas, arguing the proposal was overly formidable and lacked concrete particulars reminiscent of specifics on the timeline or compensation figures.
“In reality, I believe there’s a very excessive risk that it’ll solely be a declaration and never be carried out,” she mentioned, pointing to the federal government’s varied guarantees — and restricted success — over time.
Poorest hit hardest
The rain has now eased in Seoul — however consultants warn that this sort of excessive, unpredictable climate will turn into solely extra frequent and intense as a result of local weather change.
The local weather disaster is “elevating the temperature of the Earth and the ocean, which suggests the quantity of water vapor the air can maintain is getting greater,” mentioned Park Jung-min, deputy director of the Korea Meteorological Administration press workplace. “It is as much as the climate, the place this bag of water will pour.”
As is usually the case, it appears seemingly the poorest might be amongst these hit hardest.
“Those that have issue with residing and people who are bodily sick are sure to be extra susceptible to pure disasters,” President Yoon mentioned on Wednesday. “Solely when they’re protected, is the Republic of Korea protected.”
Other than power displacement and disrupted livelihoods, the anticipated enhance in rain throughout Asia might carry a bunch of well being hazards together with increased threat of diarrheal illnesses, dengue fever and malaria — an extra blow to already impoverished households with out entry to medical care or the means to relocate.
In Seoul, banjiha residents face the double hazard of flooding and warmth waves, Choi Eun-yeong mentioned.
“The modifications caused by the local weather disaster are virtually catastrophic, particularly for probably the most susceptible, as a result of they do not have correct housing to answer these circumstances,” she mentioned.