Image by Chonlaros Rattanataros (user: Petchy) from Pixabay
Modern South Korea, formerly known as the Republic of Korea, was formed as a result of agreements between the Soviet Union, which previously controlled North Korea, and the United States after World War II.
After World War II, South Korean society began a massive transition from agrarian to industrial, which was accelerated only by the Korean War. Before the war between North and South Korea, 75% of the population lived in rural areas, which is in stark contrast to the current state of South Korea, in which 82% of the population lives in urban areas. Most South Koreans have settled around the large settlements in the northwestern city of Seoul Incheon and the southeastern city of Daegu Busan.
Once a young industrial country, South Korea's economy grew by 10% every year during the 1980s and 1990s. Today South Korea is a manufacturing and export powerhouse. The country consists mainly of a large peninsula and numerous islands located off the western and southern coast of the peninsula. Ecosystems of South Korea include mountainous regions, coastline, rainforest and deciduous forests.
Industry and manufacturing in South Korea grew rapidly in the 1970s under the rule of dictator Park Chunghee. Unfortunately, at this time, maintaining adequate protection of the country's ecosystems was the second distant priority compared to improving the country's economic development. In particular, air quality in Seoul and the surrounding province deteriorated significantly during this period of rapid industrialization.
As South Korea has become a developed economy on the world stage, the country's priorities have changed. In fact, the South Korean government has passed numerous environmental protection laws that include restrictions on both green spaces and emissions that have significantly improved Seoul's air quality. Despite this improvement, South Korea remains one of the most polluted countries in the world in terms of air quality. In fact, a study from February 2017 found South Korea has the second worst air quality among all developed countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development 1.
One of the biggest challenges facing South Korea is understanding whether this air pollution is a result of their own production or is carried by the wind from neighboring countries. A recent NASA study found that more than half of South Korea's air pollution is the result of emissions from both industrial sites and power plants in the country, however, it was found that the rest of the air pollution originates from other countries. To address these concerns, South Korean President Moon Jae In is currently overseeing a dust search task force to alert Seoul residents to levels of fine dust particles to keep them indoors.
Seoul Bridge Fountain South Korea Image by David Mark (user: 12019) from Pixabay
South Korea is the world's fifth largest user of nuclear energy, and this dependence has created a need for safe disposal sites for nuclear waste. According to a Reuters report, about 70% of South Korea's nuclear waste, nearly 9,000 tons, is currently held in temporary storage facilities. As a result of the rapid growth of industrialization in South Korea, water problems, including scarcity and deterioration in quality, have become serious problems that have plagued the country since the 1990s. Although the South Korean government has implemented various water policies, including a surcharge for water use for lowland water users to pay mountain residents in an attempt to reduce the intensification of highland agriculture, the country continues to grapple with water pollution problems 2. Although water quality is considered acceptable in many places, South Koreans tend to boil or filter their tap water. Pollution from wastewater and industrial sources has damaged some coastal and river ecosystems.