South Korea’s capital has decided to ban the cramped basement dwellings made famous by Oscar-winning film ‘Parasite’ after four people drowned in underground dwellings in floods this week caused by record-breaking rainfall.
Soldiers and relief workers cleared debris from waterlogged, muddy houses in Gwanak district on Thursday, an AFP reporter saw, where three tenants, including a disabled woman and a teenager, died on Monday.
Her death – trapped by floodwaters in her basement apartment – has sparked public outrage, and President Yoon Suk-yeol visited her destroyed home this week before urging officials to do more to help the poor and vulnerable in natural disasters.
Seoul’s municipal government has announced it wants to get rid of tiny, cramped basement apartments — known as “banjiha” — that are usually cheap to rent but prone to damp and flooding.
Around 200,000 households live in such apartments, which according to official figures make up around five percent of the housing stock in the South Korean capital.
Seoul said in a press release on Wednesday that it would stop issuing permits to build such houses while pushing for the phasing out of existing basement and semi-basement apartments.
The city plans to start talks with the national government to ban the use of basements or semi-basements for residential purposes, she added.
Four of 11 people killed in this week’s record rains drowned after floodwaters inundated their basement apartments, officials said.
Such dwellings garnered worldwide attention with Bong Joon Ho’s 2020 Best Picture-winning “Parasite,” which features a poor family living in a damp basement house.
Activists blamed the government’s housing policies for this week’s “Banjiha” deaths, saying they were preventable disasters.
“We condemn the government’s neglect of these marginalized people in these shelters,” the Citizens’ Coalition for Economic Justice said in a statement.
“As rains become heavier and more frequent under the influence of climate change, (Seoul) needs to embark on a fundamental shift in its approach to basement dwellers,” it added.
Yoon has also blamed climate change for the rainfall and flooding, which he says were the worst since weather records began over a century ago.
“Those who are struggling financially or physically are bound to be more vulnerable to natural disasters,” he said.
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