Help Save 4 Major Rivers in S. Korea

President Lee Myung-bak of South Korea is so much development-oriented that he is pushing ahead a lot of destructive projects which will impact a lot on the conservation of rivers and riverine wetlands of the country.

Lee's prime pledge at the presidential election in 2007 was construction of so-called the "Korea Grand Canal (Great Korea Canal, or Korean Peninsular Great Waterway)" which was to connect 4 largest rivers of the country for inland navigation. He argued that it would boost S. Korean economy by the improvement in logistics systems and local tourism using the canal system. He even argued that inland navigation is environment-friendly as it would emmitt less carbon than land transportation, not considering the carbon emission from the hugh construction works.

S. Korean environmental groups including KFEM/FoE Kroea had been very concerned about the canal project as it would result in massive construction and civil engineering works along the 4 rivers which are home to many wild animals and plants and sources of drinking water for majority of S. Korean people.

We also feared that tremendous amount of tax money would be spent on such destructive projects which included building an 26km long underground waterway tunnel and 17km long artificial waterway made of concrete just to connect the two largest rivers of the country. We tried our best to stop the project to save many important riverine wetlands of Korea and to prevent tax money from being waisted.

When faced with strong opposition from the people and environmental groups from home and abroad, he had to promise that he would not proceed the project in June 2008.

Lee also mentioned that "Korea will try harder to restore degraded wetlands and rivers", when he delivered a congratualatory speech at the opening ceremony of the 10th Conference of Parties of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar COP10) in Changwon, S. Korea, on 28 October 2008.

Then, he came back with so-called the "4 Major Rivers Restoration Project" in December 2008, one month after the Ramsar Conven Meeting was over.

The master plan of the project was made public in 8 June 2009. It was proposed to store water to be prepared for drought and water shortage, and to prevent floods by building more than 20 dams on the main stream of the 4 rivers, 101 dams on tributaries, 377km of river bank strenghtening and 691km of dredging to keep the river water 4-6 m deep.

There are so many important wetlands along the 4 rivers which support a lot of wild animals and plants that S. Korean environmental groups including KFEM/FoE Korea are struggling hard to stop the project.

Your support and endorsement for the conservation of S. Korean riverine wetlands is very much appreciated.

Please read the following and send your letter of concern to Mr. Lee Myung-bak, President of S. Korea at webmaster@president.go.kr and C.C. us at ecokfem@gmail.com


July 19 2009

Dear Friends

I am writing on behalf of the Korea Federation for Environmental Movements (KFEM)/Friends of the Earth Korea (FoE Korea) to draw your attention to the so-called “Four Rivers Restoration Project,” a set of very large development projects that threatens to destroy river ecosystems and biodiversity in South Korea.

Mr. Lee Myung-bak, President of South Korea, is embarking on a project that will seriously damage the ecosystems of four largest rivers in the country. I hope you and your organization will support our campaign by endorsing the attached letter and/or write your own letter in opposition to President Lee’s Four Major Rivers Restoration project.

The South Korean government announced the Master Plan for the “Four Major Rivers Restoration” on 8 June 2009. The rivers are the Han River, Nakdong River, Geum River and Yeongsan River. They are four largest rivers in South Korea and sources of drinking water for two-thirds of the population of the country. The rivers are home to many wild animals and plants including a lot of endangered species.

The purpose of the project is to store water and to control flooding. According to the government, they want to dredge 691 km long sections of the four rivers extracting 570 million m3 of sand and gravel from the rivers and to construct 20 weirs of about 6 m high. The project will potentially prevent fish from laying eggs in the river shallows, eliminate river and wetlands where inhabited by wild animals and plants, and pollute drinking water sources used by much of the country’s population.

The government proposes to spend 22 trillion Korean Won ($17.4 billion USD) of tax payers’ money on the project. It is one of the economic stimulus packages to create employment in accordance with so-called “Low Carbon & Green Growth” promoted by the Lee government. We, however, recognize that large construction projects are not a model for sustainable development in the 21st century. According to the recent poll conducted on 30 June 2009, 66.6% of the Korean populations oppose the project, while 27.1% of them support it.

The bulldozers will start in October 2009. There are only three months left before the initiation of the project. Since its announcement, Korean environmentalists have organized sit-in campaigns from 9 June 2009 in downtown Seoul. We call for urgent action from the international communities and environmentalists around the world.

Please send e-mails to the people listed below to save Korean rivers and wetlands from this economically and environmentally unsound project.

Mr. Lee Myung-bak, President of Republic of Korea webmaster@president.go.kr
Mr. Chung Jong-hwan, Minister of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs chungceo@mltm.go.kr
Mr. Lee Maanee, Minister of Environment eman2mev@me.go.kr

with cc to International Affairs, KFEM/FOE Korea at ecokfem@gmail.com.

For more information, please contact Ms. Kim Choony/Ms. Jang Seon-yeong at KFEM/FOE Korea via ecokfem@gmail.com, seon@kfem.or.kr.

Thank you very much in advance for your support.

Sincerely Yours,

Kim Jong-nam (Ms.)
Secretary General


(Sample Letter)

Dear Honorable President Lee Myung-bak,

I am writing to you to express my deep and sincere concern about your proposed Four Major River Restoration Project in your country.

I strongly urge you to reconsider your plan to construct 20 weirs and to extract 570 million m3 of sand and gravel in the name of “restoration of rivers”. This huge project will not restore nor improve the rivers, but only devastate them. It will cause destruction of habitats for many wild animals and plants and contamination of drinking water sources of many people. Moreover this is not a model for Low Carbon & Green Growth that you are initiating now, but the model of ‘algae’ due to deterrence of water flow from constructing weirs.

I understand that 22 trillion Korean Won ($17.4 billion USD) will be spent for this project. Such a large budget can be used to promote economically, socially, and environmentally sound programs in Korea.

Time Magazine chose you as an environmental hero in November 2007. I would like to ask you to show the world your new leadership in environmental protection as a real environmental hero by reconsidering the project.

On 5 May 2009, you also told a group of children that you would be an environmentalist. Please show them your leadership as an environmentalist by canceling this project.

Sincerely yours,


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