The government should raise safety awareness and
win back public confidence
A month after the sinking of the worst ferry disaster in Korea, the country is still struggling to overcome shock, sadness, and rage. As of May 15, while no one returned alive, over 280 bodies have been retrieved and 23 others are recorded as missing whose family members are waiting for them.
People from all walks of life volunteered to help the victims and their families. Over 28,300 people flocked to the Paengmok Port and a large gymnasium in Jindo which has served as a temporary shelter for families. 725,168 boxes of relief supplies were sent as well.
For half a month, more than 326,000 citizens have visited the joint incense-burning altar at Ansan Hwarang Memorial Hall and grieved for the victims. About 200,000 people came to pay tribute at Ansan Olympic Memorial Hall, while the number of visitors to 126 joint incense altars located throughout the nation surpassed 1,823,000.
On the contrary, the government’s efforts were not as effective nor successful as those of Korean citizens. In the beginning, the Central Disaster Countermeasure Headquarters released incorrect number of passengers aboard. Irresponsible attitude of the president and the prime minister only angered people. Immediately after the accident occurred, President Park Geunhye emphasized that former administrations and those in charge should take responsibility, drawing criticism from the public that she has not spent enough time on self-reflection. This comes in stark contrast with President Obama who held himself responsible for a failed al-Qaeda bombing attempt on Christmas Day in 2009. In his official statement, he said “I am not interested in passing out blame. As president, I have a solemn responsibility to protect our nation and our people, and when the system fails, it is my responsibility.”
With the recovery of dead bodies, hope turned into despair which soon became resentment. Families held a silent picket demonstration and launched a campaign to obtain signatures so that they can push the government to embark on a thorough investigation into the disaster. They also visited the Blue House and KBS to complain that they failed to carry out appropriate response. Angry citizens took to the street as well. At the center of the movement, there were mothers and young students.
Over the course of the past one month, the country has been faced with many problems that were pointed out during rescue operations and investigation processes. Holding relevant government agencies for their slow response still remains an unsolved issue. Under such circumstances, dealing with challenges ahead is critical. The government’s focus is on formulating a national disaster master plan, putting an end to a bureaucratic control in certain areas, changing inappropriate practices performed by government officials, and rebuilding public trust. On top of that, the government should never forget that its basic role is to protect citizens. The recent catastrophe clearly shows that a disastrous outcome follows when we choose profit over people’s safety.