The Four Rivers Project
by Rishika Murthy
The Four Rivers Project keeps Green Korea and its staff nervously busy these days.
This project is an overhaul of the four major rivers in Korea: the Han, Nakdong, the Geum and the Yeongsan. The government has proposed to construct dams around all four rivers in attempts to conserve water, stop flooding and improve the quality of drinking water. Most academics fiercely oppose the project calling it “river killing” and an “ecological disaster.”
Green Korea held a press conference at the National Assembly at the end of June and invited a group of academics from the University of California Berkeley to inform the government of the harm the Four Rivers Project was doing on the environment. The group spoke to a scant showing of members of the National Assembly.
Dr. Hester, former full-time professor at the University of California Berkeley commented, “Those extraordinary sandy beaches provide recreation, enough for a lifetime. There is simply no way that any designer or landscape architect can create a recreation space that is that extraordinary.”
According to organizer, Hong Jeong Ho, a professor at Seoul National University only one governor from Gyeongsan Provence showed up and the other members, who promised to show up, did not attend. Hong’s concern was that the Korean government was not proceeding in a manner that other countries do in regards to large engineering projects such as this.
“Just as a doctor does not operate on a healthy patient, an engineer does not need to operate on a healthy river,” said Derek Shubert, a civil and environmental engineer who studied at Duke.
“This project will destroy wetlands that are healthy now,” said Shubert, and that, “The Four Rivers project will hinder South Korea’s efforts to achieve genuinely sustainable development”.
According to the executive summary from this international team of environmental experts, Dr. Hester informed the room that modern river preservation efforts included simply leaving the river to its natural state. This is, “Best for the ecological and for long-term sustainability of the area.”
Green Korea frequently takes tour groups to the construction site at Yeoju. Here the visitor can witness the destruction of the natural wetland firsthand. One Sunday morning, Mr. Ma Yung-Un and Ms. Sinae Lee were kind enough to take me along with a group of Korean environmentalists for a fact-finding tour. It was nice to be away from the city and get out into nature and hopefully its offering of finding a tranquil part of life that is always needed to counter the daily-grind that big city Seoul is. But on the tour, Mr. Ma showed pictures of the site prior to construction and it was easy to see that the site was a lush preserve of greenery and wildlife… what would ever have to be done to improve on this?
In order to get their construction project going, the government was required to do a survey of the land to record the wildlife habitats growth patterns and sustainability, according to Green Korea however, the so-called environmental experts didn’t do a very competent job of inspecting the land.
After the government survey, Green Korea went out to the land and found a rare species of flower that the government had missed. Activists insist that this flower needs to be preserved in its natural habitat and that its discovery is proof of a thriving natural environment, but the government did not listen. They instead rooted-out the flowers for a collection and re-located them to an unnamed area for preservation.
South Korean president, Lee Myung-bak, is a former construction company executive, and Green Korea suspects that this construction project may be a way of rewarding campaign workers with jobs and campaign contributors with a piece of the construction contracts. The project is estimated to create 340,000 jobs and generate millions of dollars for revenue sharing.
Many Korean citizens around the Four Damns area support the construction and see it as steps toward “modernization” and of course some local economic windfall. It is assumed that with the construction, the government will create recreational parks that include workout equipment and even one section of the South Han will be developed into a partitioned off part of the river for swimming. Swimming in the Han this sounds magical but Green Korea believes that this is just a glossy incentive, like a poster of how lovely the Four Rivers Project will turn out, but where the pretty poster never matches the common place reality.
What is the truth? Well another speculated goldmine for the government is the river sand. All the sand that’s being excavated from the bottom of the river is going to be sold to construction companies for a pretty penny – or won, rather.
Green Korea hopes to stop the construction, even if temporarily, in order to better inform the public of their findings and better inform the government and try to convince them of why the construction project is more destructive than constructive. They are conducting scientific surveys, tracking the wildlife and vegetation and developing strategies to get the public to wake up to the facts and get active in telling the government to stop the construction.
The project is due to be completed in 2012, one of the quickest completion dates for a project of this caliber. It is almost as if the project is being rushed to completion before citizen and environmental groups can actually have their say. In an unusual move that testifies to a “hurry-hurry and build it up” government mandate, “The construction companies worked 24-hours a day (excavating the sand from the river-bed) for two months before the rainy season,” said Sinae Lee.
It seems the government is determined to get through with the project despite Green Korea’s findings and protests. Until the project is completed or something can be done to halt it, Green Korea is putting the Four Rivers Project at the forefront. Unfortunately the race is on.
This Song Says it All. ” And yesterday I saw you standing by the river and weren’t those tears that filled your eyes and all the fish that lay in dirty water dying, have they got you hypnotized?”
Rishika Murthy has an M.A. in Journalism and is trying to use it. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.