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[Weekender] Free hotel room stays and parasols: Korea gears up for heat waves

As world sizzles under deadly heat domes, officials come up with resourceful ideas to protect the vulnerable

July 5, 2022 - 18:01 By Yim Hyun-su
Pedestrians enjoy cooling mists in Dongseong-ro, Daegu on Sunday. (Yonhap)
From Japan to India, the US and countries in Europe, summer has arrived early this year with stifling heat domes and deadly temperatures.

South Korea is no exception to the global heat crisis, and city and district officials are introducing novel measures to help residents stay cool and healthy.

Yongsan District, one of the 25 districts in the capital city, has recently opened seven air-conditioned rooms in a local hotel to single and low-income seniors aged 65 and above to stay for free during heat waves between July and August. One family member can also join them.

“As we are expecting the worst heat of this year, electric bills are rising and the burden of air conditioning costs has also increased,” said Yongsan District Mayor Park Hee-young on July 4.

Park said she would seek various measures to mitigate the heat wave’s impact on the vulnerable such as providing resting spots and public shade canopies.

South Korea is in the middle of its rainy season, which brought a respite from heat waves to most parts of the country. But once the monsoon recedes, the sweltering heat is to return, weather experts say.

Before the rains, ultrahot weather had arrived earlier than usual this season. The second-highest alert against a scorching heat wave was issued nationwide on July 2, 18 days earlier than last year.

Hit by an early heat wave, power demand also hit a record high in June, as the country’s maximum power demand averaged 71,805 megawatts. It marked the highest tally for the month, according to data from the Korea Power Exchange.

The number of times emergency services were dispatched for heat-related illnesses nearly quadrupled between May 20 and July 10, according to data from the National Fire Agency.

Most commonly experienced heat-related illness included heat exhaustion, febrile seizure and heat strokes, the data showed.

Against this backdrop, most measures being drawn up against heat waves are designed to help marginalized communities such as older people who live alone.

“Seniors who live alone without an air conditioner at home can apply to stay in a designated local hotel or a motel room for one night,” said one official at Seodaemun District Office.

Similar schemes can be found in districts across the city.
Jeong Won-oh, Mayor of Seongdong District, takes a bottle of water out of a refrigerator which has been set up as part of his district‘s scheme to counter the heat. (Seongdong District)
In Seongdong District, a scheme dubbed as “Spring Water Warehouse” has been launched, offering free label-less bottled water between July and August.

A total of 5,400 bottles of water will be provided at refrigerators set up at places like parks and trails along the stream as well as subway station exits. Recycling cans will be also installed nearby to encourage waste sorting.

In Jung District, newly appointed Mayor Kim Kil-sung has launched a task force that focuses on tackling the heat wave and providing community support. 

Last week, district office staff got in touch with 2,090 residents on the phone who are likely to be hit the hardest by the heat wave. When they could not be reached, officials and medical staff were sent to check on them and provide first aid.
Senior local residents receive items prepared by Jung District Office in Incheon to help fend off heat waves. (Jung District, Incheon)
Water-spraying trucks will also be deployed to cool down the streets. The district office is also offering up to 1 million won ($763) as a payout to cover utility bills for low-income households as well as compensations for living and expenses and medical bills.

An emergency kit consisting of items such as a parasol, sunscreen and a towel will also be distributed to those most vulnerable, the office said.

Elsewhere in the country, measures specifically designed to protect farmers have been introduced amid concerns over the impact of the blistering weather on livestock animals.

Goheung County in South Jeolla Province is setting aside an emergency budget of 640 million won to offset the damage on farms caused by heat waves and drought. Water pumps and hoses will also be provided for free by the county government.

The county received 274.5 milliliters of rainfall during the first half of this year, which amounts to just 46 percent of the average level during the last 10 years. South Gyeongsang Province has also announced it would spend 37.5 billion won to help modernize barns or automate farm tasks and cover the cost of livestock insurance.

In Daegu, a city known for being one of the hottest places in South Korea, what is dubbed a “cooling fog” system has been installed at bus stops and on the streets. The mist-spraying system is said to be able to bring down air temperatures by 3 to 5 degrees Celsius.

The Daegu Metropolitan Government is also lending sun umbrellas at multiple locations as part of efforts to tackle heat waves. People can take them for free and return them after use.