South Korea steps up fight against pollution, says problem is ‘social disaster’

South Korea’s air quality was the worst among its peers in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development as of 2017, according to data from the group. (Reuters)
Updated 13 March 2019
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South Korea steps up fight against pollution, says problem is ‘social disaster’

  • Pollution in Asia’s fourth-largest economy has been driven up by factors including coal-fired power generation and high vehicle emissions
  • Designating the issue a ‘disaster’ allows the government to use parts of its reserve funds to help respond to any damage or emergency caused by polluted air

SEOUL: South Korea on Wednesday ramped up its firepower as its battle pollution, passing a set of bills that designate the problem a ‘social disaster’ and which could unlock emergency funds to tackle the issue.
Pollution in Asia’s fourth-largest economy has been driven up by factors including coal-fired power generation and high vehicle emissions, sparking widespread concern among the public and weighing on President Moon Jae-in’s approval ratings.
Designating the issue a ‘disaster’ allows the government to use parts of its reserve funds to help respond to any damage or emergency caused by polluted air. The country’s reserve funds stand at up to 3 trillion won ($2.65 billion) this year.
Other bills that were passed included mandating that every school classroom should have an air purifier and removing a limit on sales of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) vehicles, which typically produce less emissions than gasoline and diesel.
The latest bills follow previous steps to battle pollution such as capping operations at coal-fired power plants.
South Korea’s air quality was the worst among its peers in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) as of 2017, according to data from the group. Its average annual exposure to fine particulate matter (PM) of less than 2.5 micrometers was 25.1 micrograms per cubic meter, slightly more than double the OECD average of 12.5.
The World Health Organization recommends that air quality standard should be no more than 10 micrograms in terms of PM 2.5 levels.
For six consecutive days in early March, high levels of concentrated pollutants enveloped most parts of South Korea.
According to a weekly poll by Gallup Korea released on March 8, President Moon’s approval rating was down by 3 percentage points from a week earlier at 46 percent.
Unless any objections are raised, it should take around 15 days for the bills to become law.
The nation’s regional neighbor China has also been fighting pollution as it tries to reverse damage from over three decades of untrammeled economic growth.


‘Huge’ challenges ahead as Cyril Ramaphosa takes presidential oath in South Africa

Updated 25 May 2019
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‘Huge’ challenges ahead as Cyril Ramaphosa takes presidential oath in South Africa

  • Promised a new era in which officials will improve the lives of South Africans
  • South Africa is the world’s most economically unequal country

PRETORIA: South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Saturday urged the country to pursue “an extraordinary feat of human endeavor” as he was sworn in for a five-year term with a delicate fight against government corruption ahead of him.
“The challenges our country face are huge and real. But they are not insurmountable. They can be solved. And I stand here today saying they are going to be solved,” Ramaphosa told some 30,000 people in the capital, Pretoria, with several African leaders in attendance.
He promised a new era in which officials will improve the lives of South Africans instead of enriching themselves. He called for a state free from graft and “resources squandered,” and urged fellow citizens to end poverty in a generation. Both would be immense achievements: Corruption and mismanagement have consumed billions of rand, and South Africa is the world’s most economically unequal country.
Ramaphosa’s inauguration followed his ruling African National Congress party’s 57.5% victory in this month’s election. It was the party’s weakest showing at the ballot box since the ANC took power at the end of the harsh system of racial apartheid in 1994, as voter turnout and confidence fell.
Ramaphosa first took office last year after former president Jacob Zuma was pressured to resign amid corruption scandals that badly damaged public faith in the ANC. A former protege of South Africa’s first black president, Nelson Mandela, Ramaphosa is seen by many as having the potential to clean up both the government and the ruling party’s reputation. Without him the ANC likely would have received just 40% of the vote, one party leader, Fikile Mbalula, has said.

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ROYAL CONGRATULATIONS

Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sent Ramaphosa a cable of congratulations on his swearing in. 
The crown prince expressed his sincere congratulations, best wishes for success and further progress for the people of South Africa

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There was no sign at Saturday’s ceremony of Zuma, who has insisted he did nothing wrong and that allegations are politically motivated. His allies within the ANC leadership pose a challenge to Ramaphosa as he pursues reforms.
Ahead of the election Ramaphosa apologized to South Africans for the political turmoil. He also vowed to continue the fight against graft that has hurt the country’s economy, the most developed in sub-Saharan Africa.
The president’s resolve to impose clean governance will be tested with the appointment of his new Cabinet in the coming days. He faces pressure from opposition parties and civil society to reduce the number of ministers — there are now 34 — and appoint ones who are scandal-free.
In a sign his efforts are working, former deputy president David Mabuza was not sworn in as a member of Parliament due to an incriminating report on him by the ANC’s integrity commission. For now, Ramaphosa is without a deputy.
In his speech on Saturday the president also addressed public frustration with joblessness, patchy delivery of basic services and the legacy of inequality. Unemployment is above 25% and much of the country’s wealth and private levers of power are held by the small white minority.
“Many South Africans still go to bed hungry,” Ramaphosa said. “Many live lives of intolerable deprivation. Too many of our people do not work, especially the youth.”
One challenge for the president in the years ahead is engaging potential voters in South Africa’s “Born Free” generation , who never experienced apartheid and unlike their parents see the ANC not as a party of liberation but one expected to deliver for the future.