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.

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