SBS News Report on the 4 Rivers Project

The SBS TV, one of national TV channels in South Korea reported a news yesterday, April 13th, 2010 that the Dori Islet, an important habitat for endangered animal species such as Korean Tiger Lizard Eremias argus and endangered plant species such as Aster altaicus var. uchiyamae is being damaged due to the Four Rivers Restoration Project of the country.
The government is trying to make an articifial Ecological Park at the site after dredging large amount of sand and gravel from the islet. The EIA report for the Four Major Rivers Restoration Project did not include such endangered species inhabitating the site. And there is no measures to protect such endangered species at the site.
Why does the South Korean govern want to damage the precious natural habitat just to make an artificial park?

▲ SBS news report on April 13, 2010.  (Click the white square in the middle of the picture, then after a short TV commercial about 16 seconds, you will be able to watch the news.)

▲ A shoot of endangered plant species Aster altaicus var. uchiyamae at the Dori Islet is about to be trampled down due to the Four Major Rivers Restoration Project  (Photo: The Hankyoreh newspaper)


Decoding the Four Rivers confusion - The Hankyoreh

Here is a very good article by the Hankyoreh on the Four Rivers Project. The Hankyoreh is one of national newspapers in South Korea and is considered as the most reliable newspaper in the country.

[Column]Decoding the Four Rivers confusion

The Hankyoreh Posted on : Apr.2,2010 12:59 KST

» Jeong Seok-gu, Senior Editorial Writer

Every time President Lee Myung-bak emphasizes the necessity of the Four Major Rivers Restoration Project, I find myself at a loss, confused as to whether he says such things with an understanding of the true picture, or if he is doing so according to some other political understanding. Most disconcerting of all is when he claims that the project saves animal and plant life and restores the ecosystem. Religious groups, including Catholics and Buddhists, are currently waging a campaign of strenuous opposition and calling the Four Major Rivers Restoration Project an act of killing. Which side is the one restoring life, and which is the one ending it?

President Lee says that the four rivers are severely polluted and that their birds and fish are dying. That severe pollution situation does arise from time to time during droughts or when wastewater and sewage flow into the river, but calling the rivers so filthy that birds and fish cannot live in them is a distortion of the truth. He also uses this misguided assumption as a basis for saying that the primary goal of the project is to save these precious lives. It is a mind-boggling logical leap.

Go to one of the construction sites for the Four Major Rivers Restoration Project. You will see that the once beautiful riversides, with their thick reeds and willows and their white beaches, are now being trampled by excavators and construction vehicles. A jet-black polluted layer of mud is being laid bare at the sites, while the formerly blue waters are turning yellow with mud. Far from saving lives, they are destroying the very habitats of these fish and birds. Some might say that all construction sites are like this at first. But will life go back to normal once the construction ends as planned? Every place will be blocked off with dams, the riverside decked out in concrete. It is not a natural, but an artificial river that drives away life. Currently, countries like Germany and the U.S. are tearing down the dams they have built on rivers over the years and are restoring them to their natural state. If the Lee Myung-bak government does not know the reason for this, it is simply ignorant, and if it does know and yet believes it can solve the resulting problems with the latest technology, it is indicative of an arrogant disregard for the order of nature.

President Lee says that the project is his own conviction, and that he needs to persuade the people who oppose it. He frequently cites examples such as the Cheonggyecheon and the Seoul-Busan Expressway. He seems to be saying that while those projects also had opponents, he followed through with them according to his own convictions, and everyone is pleased with the results. Every time I hear this, I find myself wondering whether the president thinks all South Koreans have the intellectual capability of a kindergartner. The Cheonggyecheon and the Seoul-Busan Expressway are completely different from the Four Major Rivers project. The Cheonggyecheon project changed a paved-over, rotting stream into a 5.8 km artificial concrete river. The Four Major Rivers Restoration Project involves no less than 1,300 km of living, flowing natural rivers. Comparing the two is a clear fallacy.

An even bigger cause for concern is when President Lee speaks as though he would be failing to fulfill his duty as president and committing some kind of crime against the state if he did not finish the project. The people never gave him the authority to blithely cut off and dig up the four rivers that form the mainstay of the Korean Peninsula. President Lee also said that if the project is turned into an instrument of political warfare, it is the nation’s future that will be sacrificed. However, the project itself is an act of barbarism, bringing down the country’s prestige and destroying the living space of our descendants.

Still, President Lee pushes stubbornly on, declaring that he will finish the project within his term. He completely ignores any recommendation to use just one of the rivers as a test case first, or any suggestion to implement the project in stages after carrying out a proper assessment of its environmental effects. No matter what problems or aftereffects are pointed out, it all falls on deaf ears.

What should be done now? Before doing anything, go to the four rivers and see the construction sites for yourselves. Even better, make a spring outing of it and go hand in hand with your children. If not, at least stop by the Nakdong River photo exhibition currently being held in Seoul, Busan and other locations throughout the country by Buddhist monk Jiyul. There, you will find the answer on what the true picture of the Four Major Rivers Restoration Project is, and what it is that we must do.


Reservoir Dogs - Music Video of the 'Windy City'

The 'Windy City', a South Korean music band produced a music video with the title of the . It was taken at the scene of the Four Rivers Project which is building more than 20 new dams and removing hundreds of million tonnes of sand and gravel from the four largest rivers of South Korea. You can see the workers at the project site were trying to block the atrists to sing songs along the river.


Impacts of the 4 Rivers Project on Waterbirds

The Birds Korea published an excellent report which clearly shows that there will be a major impact of the Four Rivers Project in South Korea on bird population, especially waterbirds. Here is the executive summary of the report.   

The Anticipated Impacts of the Four Rivers Project (ROK) on Waterbirds

Birds Korea Preliminary Report
Birds Korea

Executive Summary

Seasonal patterns of precipitation in the Republic of Korea resulted historically in seasonally shallow rivers and extensive floodplain wetlands supporting a rich avian biodiversity. Especially during the second half of the twentieth century, all large and most small rivers in the Republic of Korea have been modified to a greater or lesser degree by dams, reinforced banks and in some cases by estuarine barrages. Most stretches of river are also prone to disturbance from roads and other infrastructure along their flanks, and most floodplain wetland has already been converted for agriculture and other uses. While there are few historic data, several waterbird species have been lost to the Republic of Korea due to habitat loss and degradation or due to human pressure, while many other species have become more localised or have declined. Despite these changes, many stretches of river and estuaries still remain internationally important for waterbirds, and/or support globally threatened waterbird species, and should be conserved in accordance with national laws and e.g. the Ramsar Strategic Plan (2009-2015). The Four Rivers Project (launched in November 2009) threatens many of these remaining wetlands. It entails further simultaneous large-scale construction along the Han, the Nakdong, the Geum and the Yeongsan Rivers, four of the nation’s five largest rivers. It includes deep-dredging of 691 km of river, the construction of 16 new dams, the rebuilding of two major estuarine barrages, the strengthening of embankments and the construction of >1700 km of bicycle road and other tourist-related infrastructure. Predictions of the economic and social costs and benefits of the Four Rivers Project have been presented in a range of literature and statements. This preliminary report aims to assess some of the anticipated impacts on waterbirds of the Four Rivers Project through (1) reduced flood-pulse, (2) loss of shallow river habitat, (3) increased degradation and reduced opportunity for the restoration of estuaries, and (4) an increase in disturbance. Species and some of the sites that are likely to be affected are identified in the main through analysis of data generated by an annual bird census coordinated by the national Ministry of Environment (MOE Census) first conducted in 1999. Out of >140 sites now covered by the MOE Census, this report considers that 48 such sites are likely to be affected, in addition to several thousands of kilometre of stream and river that are not covered by the Census but which are included in related infrastructure plans. Data from these 48 sites can provide some insight into the numbers of waterbirds and the species likely to be most affected, and in future years should enable impacts of the Four Rivers Project to be monitored with greater confidence.

The MOE Census data also confirm that within the Republic of Korea shallow stretches of river and (near-natural) estuaries tend to support a higher density of waterbirds per hectare than river- impoundments, as also indicated by independent survey at the Geum Estuary during northward and southward migration and at the Yeongsan and Nakdong Estuaries throughout the year. In addition, the MOE Census data confirm that several species considered ecologically dependent on rivers, their floodplains and/or their estuaries are already nationally scarce, and in some cases have shown declines over the past decade. While analysis of the MOE Census is unable to produce national population estimates of very local and scarce species such as the globally Endangered Scaly-sided Merganser, in combination with other sources the data do confirm this species’ presence on a very few stretches of river and its ecological dependence on relatively undisturbed and free-flowing rivers.

This report concludes that without cancellation or adequate mitigation, the Four Rivers Project will impact ca. 50 bird species negatively (including 30 species of waterbird), causing further declines in several sensitive waterbird species that are ecologically dependent on shallow rivers, flood-plain wetlands and estuaries. It will also reduce the conservation value of at least one Ramsar site and negatively affect eight BirdLife-designated Important Bird Areas. As such the Four Rivers Project will hinder the nation’s efforts to achieve genuinely sustainable development as set out by the United Nations and the Millennium Development Goals (UN, 2008).

* For the full version of the report please go to http://www.birdskorea.org/Habitats/4-Rivers/BK-HA-Preliminary-Report-2010.shtml


Restoration or Devastation? - Science magazine, 26th, March, 2010

The Science magazine reported a very good article on the Four Rivers Restoration Project of South Korea. Here is a summary of the article.

You can read the full text here



Science 26 March 2010:

Vol. 327. no. 5973, pp. 1568 - 1570
DOI: 10.1126/science.327.5973.1568

News Focus

Environmental Restoration:
Restoration or Devastation?

Dennis Normile*

Launched last November, the South Korean government's Four Major Rivers Restoration Project calls for building 16 dams, dredging 570 million cubic meters of sand and gravel to deepen nearly 700 kilometers of riverbed, renovating two estuarine barrages, and constructing bike trails, athletic fields, and parks along the waterways. At $19 billion, it is one of the costliest engineering projects in the country's history. And it is attracting fiery opposition, notably from the Professors' Organization for Movement Against Grand Korean Canal, a group of 2800 academics who accuse the government and supporters of twisting data and ignoring expert panel recommendations on issues such as water quality, flood control, rainfall patterns, and environmental impacts to justify a massive construction boondoggle. Both sides agree on one point: The project will dramatically transform the Han, Nakdong, Geum, and Yeongsan rivers.