Lawmakers struggle during formation of budget sub-committee for four rivers project


Lawmakers struggle during formation of budget sub-committee for four rivers project

While the DP continues strong protest against the Four Major Rivers Restoration Project’s budget, the Cheong Wa Dae has again refused to grant a tripartite meeting

The Hankyoreh Posted on : Dec.18,2009 12:34 KST

The lawmakers from the opposition Democratic Party (DP) occupied the chairman’s seat at the Budget and Accounts Committee in order to prevent the budget of Four Major Rivers Restoration Project from passing at 9:35 a.m. on Dec. 17. Following the DP’s occupation of the chairman’s seat, there was some conflict between lawmakers from ruling Grand National Party (GNP) and DP when GNP lawmakers attempted to pull DP lawmakers out of the seat.

Lee Si-jong, DP lawmaker and representative on the committee, sitting in the chairman’s seat, said “We will wait until the Cheong Wa Dae (the presidential office in South Korea or Blue House) reveals its plans for the Four Major Rivers Restoration Project budget.” Lee added “Without knowing the Lee government’s position on the budget, we cannot allow the formation of the Sub-committee for Adjusting the Budget Bill.” Lawmakers from opposition Democratic Labor Party (DLP) including Chairman Kang Ki-kap joined the DP in efforts to occupy the chairman’s seat.

After occupying the chairman’s seat, Chung Sye-kyun, Chairman of the DP said during a general meeting of lawmakers, “The core of the Four Major Rivers Restoration Project is President Lee Myung-bak, because the GNP is merely acting as the president’s puppet.” Chung added, “It was the right course of action for the main opposition party to occupy the chairman’s seat.” Opposition party lawmakers also engaged in a sit-it demonstration far into the night.

However, Ahn Sang-soo, floor leader of GNP, criticized the DP’s move to occupy the chairman’s seat by saying, “Today the DP was a party of violence and occupation.” Ahn added, “It is right for us to form a Sub-committee for Adjusting the Budget Bill.”

Regarding the proposal made by GNP Chairman Chung Mong-joon of convening a tripartite meeting between President Lee Myung-bak and Chairmen of the GNP and DP to resolve the budget issue of the Four Major Rivers Restoration Project, Lee Dong-kwan, the senior presidential secretary for public affairs, said, “The budget issues should be discussed between ruling and opposition parties.”



Ambitious Rivers Project Meets a Sea of Opposition

Ambitious Rivers Project Meets a Sea of Opposition


New York Times

Published: December 13, 2009

NAJU, South Korea — Last month, on a gravelly embankment of the Youngsan River here, President Lee Myung-bak broke ground on a $19.2 billion public works project to remake the country’s four longest rivers, an ambitious and controversial undertaking that has spurred a national debate over what constitutes green development.

Mr. Lee says the project will generate thousands of jobs, improve water supply and quality, and prevent flooding, while providing a model for environmentally sound development.

But critics call it a political boondoggle, say it will be an environmental disaster and have sued to stop it. More South Koreans oppose the project than support it. And opponents charge that it is simply a repackaging of Mr. Lee’s earlier dream of linking the Han and Nakdong Rivers to create a “Grand Korean Waterway” across the nation, a proposal he abandoned in the face of widespread opposition.

Meanwhile engineers have already begun work to rebuild the Han, Nakdong, Kum and Youngsan Rivers, work that is likely to make Mr. Lee famous or infamous long after his five-year term ends in 2013 and could even determine who succeeds him.

“If they build a weir here, I fear it will trap the water and make the river more polluted than it is now,” said Choi Han-gon, 55, a farmer here who admits to conflicted feelings about the project. Gazing at a government billboard depicting the futuristic waterfront town promised to rise here within two years, he added, “I can also see why everyone will love it once it’s done.”

Mr. Lee, a former chief executive of the Hyundai construction company who is nicknamed the Bulldozer for his penchant for colossal engineering schemes, aims at nothing less than rethinking the ecology and economy of the rivers, some of which were heavily polluted during the country’s rapid industrialization. For three years, workers will dredge river bottoms and build dikes, reservoirs and hydroelectric power stations.

When the work is done, the government says, the rivers will “come alive” with tourists, sailboats and water sports enthusiasts. Sixteen futuristic-looking weirs will straddle the rivers, creating pristine lakes bordered by wetland parks. A 1,050-mile network of bike trails will run along the rivers.

Mr. Lee has engaged in this sort of development before, overcoming similar opposition and ultimately reaping a political fortune. As mayor of Seoul, in 2005, he silenced protests from urban shop owners and peeled back asphalt to reveal a long-forgotten, sewage-filled stream. He cleaned it and let it run again through downtown Seoul by pumping in water from the Han River.

Today, the four-mile Cheonggyecheon River is the capital’s most visible landmark. Its popularity helped win him the presidency in 2007.

Now, with an eye to his legacy, Mr. Lee is determined to repeat that success, this time on a national scale.

He wants the work done fast, in time for the 2012 parliamentary and presidential elections. Although he is constitutionally barred from seeking re-election, his governing Grand National Party bills the river project as the centerpiece of a Green New Deal, a strategy of economic growth through eco-friendly projects.

“As with the restoration of Cheonggyecheon, our efforts to save the four major rivers will generate greater benefits than we can even imagine now,” Mr. Lee told 2,000 guests at the groundbreaking ceremony on the Youngsan River.

The political opposition, however, calls it “quick-fix window-dressing” ahead of the 2012 elections. More than 400 environmental and other civic groups filed a joint lawsuit last month to stop the project. They argue that dredging river bottoms will disrupt the ecosystem and the new dams will create catch basins, worsening pollution and flooding.

“He just broke ground for an environmental catastrophe,” said Woo Sang-ho, spokesman of the main opposition Democratic Party. In Parliament, the opposition is trying to block further financing for the project, while Mr. Lee’s party, the majority, is determined to push it through.

After his decision to allow American beef imports last year was met with huge street protests, Mr. Lee’s approval ratings have begun to bounce back amid signs of economic recovery. Now he is courting a new generation of affluent Koreans who want a greener environment in their neighborhoods, a bet that paid off handsomely in Seoul.

That he chose this southwestern town for the official start of the four rivers project was no accident. The Youngsan River is one of the country’s most polluted, and many in the province support Mr. Lee’s efforts.

But the surrounding Cholla region is a traditional stronghold of the opposition, posing a dilemma for local politicians. At the groundbreaking event, the provincial governor and the mayor of Kwangju, the region’s main city — both members of the Democratic Party — praised the project.

Some of the project’s most avid supporters are those who live near the rivers.

“I have great expectations,” said Choi Hyun-ho, 61, a farmer in Yeoju, a Han River town south of Seoul. “Land prices here have risen 40 percent in the past two years.”

But some locals fear the loss of their traditional way of life.

“Those trucks and bulldozers are slashing the rivers around the country to build a personal monument for an engineering president and his friends: greedy developers and construction companies,” said Kim Jae-sun, 46, a farmer on the Youngsan River. “I don’t foresee any tourists coming here, just garbage from upstream piling up at the new dam, right in front of my village.”

Mr. Kim joined dozens of environmental activists who protested at Mr. Lee’s ceremony.

“You can’t improve water quality by building more dams,” said Park Mi-kyong, a local environmental activist who led the demonstration. “It’s best to let the river flow its natural course.”

Lee Yong-soo, 77, who lives in Mokpo, a town farther downstream, expressed nostalgia for 30 years ago when the water was so clean that children dived for clams and fishing boats sailed up the Youngsan to sell anchovies and skate fish to inland villages. But then the riverbed rose with layers of toxic silt. So he was willing to give the president the benefit of the doubt.

“He cleaned up that ditch in Seoul, didn’t he?” he said. “If he can clean up this river, everyone will applaud him.”

A version of this article appeared in print on December 14, 2009, on page A6 of the New York edition.



World Wetland Network's Letter on the 4 Rivers Project of Korea

11th December 2009

Dear President Lee Myung-Bak, Mr. Prime Minister Mr. Chung Un-chan, Chung Jong-hwan, Minister of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs, and Mr. Lee Maanee, Minister of the Environment,

Re: Four Rivers Project, Republic of Korea (ROK)

The World Wetland Network (WWN), established at the Ramsar COP10 in Changwon, is a rapidly growing network of over 200 wetland Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) from across the world. A central committee of representatives from each continent, plus technical advisors, meets on a regular basis to plan, feedback and exchange information.

As a global network of wetland specialists, the WWN would like to advise the ROK government to cancel the Four Rivers Project.

In Europe, the US and Japan, there were numerous river engineering projects in past decades which included straightening river channels, dredging river beds, putting in built water management structures and re-enforcing banks. The world has since learnt from these mistakes. Disconnecting rivers from their flood plains, straightening and deepening them has led to huge problems with floods, erosion, poor water quality, changing ecological systems and reduced biodiversity, not to mention disconnecting local communities from their rivers. This of course also has an economic and human cost.

While the Four Rivers project in the ROK has been described as a ‘restoration’ project by its proponents, it is clear to the WWN and to all wetland experts around the world that the construction of new dams and river dredging cannot be called restoration. Further, the construction of bicycle trails and resort areas proposed as part of the Four Rivers project will increase disturbance to sensitive species and systems. As proposed, the Four Rivers project will lead to a massive loss of biodiversity and cause enormous environmental costs, some of which will be immediate, and others which will emerge longer-term as the rivers and watersheds can no longer function in a natural way.

The Four Rivers project, with its emphasis on construction is clearly contrary to the wise use principle that Ramsar promotes, and ignores existing Ramsar guidance on wetland restoration and management, environmental impact, and community involvement (e.g. resolution X.19: Wetlands and River Basin Management; VIII.16: Principles and guidelines for wetland restoration; resolution X.17: Environmental Impact Assessments; and resolution VII.8: Guidelines for establishing and strengthening local communities’ and indigenous people’s participation in the management of wetlands). In addition, it is clearly “unsustainable development” that will prevent the ROK from fulfilling its obligations to numerous international agreements, including Ramsar, the Millennium Development Goals and the Convention on Biological Diversity .

In contrast to the ROK Four Rivers project, in Europe, the Water Framework Directive is reversing these types of hard-engineering works, at great expense, to revert to a more naturally functioning, catchment-based approach. All member nations of the European Union have implemented the Water Framework Directive into their national policies. In the US, water companies now manage catchments to improve water quality, regulate flow naturally, and reduce the risk of flood. The WWN is happy to provide this information to decision-makers in the ROK, in order to assist the nation in its moves towards wetland conservation and wise use.

We therefore strongly urge the ROK to reconsider the Four Rivers Project. It is not too late to stop the destructive works, and to value your river systems as the natural treasures and providers that they are. It is not only in the interest of the ROK to do so, but also in the interest of all the nations of the East Asian - Australasian Flyway, and of all contracting parties to the Ramsar Convention.


Chris Rostron, Chair of WWN
Melissa Marin, Neotropics Representative, WWN
Esteban Biamonte, Secretary, WWN
Peter Lengyel, Europe Representative, WWN
Baboucarr Mbye, Africa Representative, WWN
Cassie Price, Oceania Representative, WWN
Tsuji Atsuo, Asia Representative, WWN
Becky Abel, North America Representative, WWN
Kashiwagi Minoru, Technical Advisor, WWN
Luc Hoogenstein, Technical Advisor, WWN



Wetland destruction means migratory birds will starve

Though some stories in the article below is not exactly correct, it is very nice to know that there are people in Australia concerned about wetlands conservation in South Korea.


Wetland destruction means migratory birds will starve

Leigh Dayton, Science writer
The Australian  
December 03, 2009 12:00AM

MIGRATORY shorebirds face starvation from the planned destruction of their wetland "pit stops" in South Korea.

The world's population of great knots has already plummeted 20 per cent because of previous wetland destruction in South Korea, but last month the Environment Ministry approved the Four Major Rivers Restoration Project. A day later, President Lee Myung-bak broke ground on the project, which includes 21 new dams, destruction of 87 old dams and dredging of almost 700km of rivers.

Birds such as the great knot, curlew sandpiper and tiny red-necked stint "winter" in coastal waters in Tasmania and southeastern Australia before flying to Siberia to breed in the northern summer.

Hobart-based shorebird ecologist Eric Woehler -- with Birds Tasmania and the University of Tasmania -- said migrating birds used South Korean wetlands to fuel up for the onward journey to Siberia.

"The birds have no alternative feeding areas. They feed on intertidal invertebrates like clams and shellfish that live in the mud, put on weight and then fly to the next staging area," said Dr Woehler.

"We've already seen the impact of the reclamation of the Sae Man Geum Wetland along South Korea's west coast.

"The reclamation has destroyed the food, so when the birds arrive they starve."

The Sae Man Geum Reclamation Project represents the world's largest tidal flat destruction, claims environmental group Friends of the Earth Korea.

The group estimated that, three years after it began in 2000, roughly 200,000 migrating birds failed to return to Australia.

And a tanker collision in January last year released 10,500 tonnes of crude oil off Sae Man Geum. "That was a double whammy for the birds," Dr Woehler said yesterday.

A spokesperson for Environment Minister Peter Garrett said the minister was aware of the new project but had no evidence it was driving the decline in waterbird populations. He said the minister would "seek advice" from Korea should evidence emerge.

According to FOEK, the new project will reclaim more than 1000sq km of critical coastal wetland for industry, roads and port developments.

Spokesperson Ma Yong-un said more than 100 river wetlands on the country's National Wetland Inventory would be affected, some linked to Korea's 11 Wetlands of International Importance, protected under the 1971 Ramsar convention.