Facing prospect of nuclear war, South Koreans go nuts for survival kits

Screengrab of a video made by South Korean comedian Kang Yoo Mi. (Photo: YouTube, Yumi Kang.)
Screengrab of a video made by South Korean comedian Kang Yoo Mi. (Photo: YouTube, Yumi Kang.)


Faced with the ominous threat posed by a nuclear North Korea, South Koreans are preparing for the worst. There’s been a surge in sales of pre-made survival kits and a number of often humorous "what to pack" videos have been going viral.

Tensions between Washington and Pyongyang have been escalating in recent months, and displays of military force have now joined the war of words. On September 3, North Korea carried out another nuclear test — its sixth since 2006. In the last few weeks the country has also launched several ballistic missiles as the United States has increased its military exercises in the South China Sea. On September 25, North Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs Ri Yong-ho said that US President Donald Trump had “declared war”.

These threats are worrying people in South Korea. Some have started preparing for the possibility of war by putting together survival kits. Since the beginning of the year, more than 7,400 (often humorous) videos about how to prepare a survival kit have been posted on YouTube, according to the Reuters press agency.

One of the most popular videos was made by well-known Korean comedian Kang Yoo Mi. Posted on August 19, it has since garnered close to 600,000 views. In the video, Kang shows off a ready-made survival kit, containing food rations, a torch, the materials to start a fire, a water filter and a gas mask. A few older videos on how to prepare a survival kit, like one made by vlogger Ddimmi in April 2017, have also started circulating again amid the spike in tensions.

In another video — which had been viewed 135,000 times by press time — a young woman turns the fears over escalating tensions into pure comedy. In the skit, she grows increasingly panicked while listening to the news and starts running around her apartment trying to prepare a survival kit.

When she finally shows off her homemade kit, it is mostly made up of blankets and cans of food. In the caption under the video, the comedian says that she made this video for fun, but she sincerely hopes that her country won’t go to war with North Korea.

Many people have shared photos on Instagram of the survival kits they were packing in case of war.

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So, is it time to laugh ... or panic?

While most of these videos are made in a light and humorous tone, the subject of survival kits is still something that a lot of South Koreans are taking seriously.

In mid-September, South Korean TV's Channel A actually dedicated part of its programme to the growing popularity of survival kits. The Channel A journalists said that this trend was fuelled by both fears of the growing North Korea threat as well as a jarring earthquake that hit the country in 2016 (according to French daily L’Express, which translated the televised segment).

More people have also been purchasing ready-made survival kits. On October 4, South Koreans will celebrate Chuseok, one of the biggest national holidays, during which families often gather and swap presents. This year, one of the most popular gifts is a survival kit, according to the main South Korean English-language daily, The Korea Herald. “There has been a recent surge in demand for such survival kits,” Hong Soon-chul, head of the marketing communications team at eBay Korea, told the paper.

The Korea Herald reported that the Auction website saw a 77% increase in sales of combat rations and a 46% increase in portable radio purchases after North Korea’s sixth nuclear test in September.

Last week, another company made the news when it decided to supply its employees with survival kits, as reported by the Yonhap press agency.

South Korea signed a nuclear treaty in 1974 agreeing not to pursue its own nuclear programme, even though it would be the first country in the line of fire if North Korea wanted to attack. Thousands of US soldiers are currently based in South Korea and, according to France's AFP news agency, daily life in Seoul is marked by this real and present danger from the North.

“Metro stations double as air raid shelters and have gas masks on hand,” the AFP reported. “Roughly four times a year there are attack drills.”