Nial Moores PhD, Birds Korea, October 2nd 2013
The Four Rivers project entailed, especially between 2009 and 2012, the deep-dredging of many hundreds of kilometres of naturally-shallow rivers and the construction of numerous new dams, poorly-designed eco-parks and extensive bicycle trails. In line with its conservation mission, Birds Korea expressed grave concerns over the anticipated impacts of this mega-construction project on the nation’s birdlife. As the project progressed, the destruction of many important wetlands became evident, and what little data there are (especially those contained within the Ministry of Environment annual winter bird census reports) indicate a large decline in the number of waterbirds wintering in the ROK between 2009 and 2013. Many other species have also been impacted. As Birds Korea predicted, the project has been ecologically disastrous.
Other independent organisations focused less on biodiversity and more on pollution and economics. As predicted, water quality has worsened in many areas (even the outer estuary of the Nakdong was clogged with river algae last month). And this pollution requires massive additional money to correct – essential in those many areas where the river water is later used either for agriculture or for drinking water.
Despite the obvious problems of the Four Rivers project (including allegations of corruption), the Korea Times in August 2012 still felt able to report that “The state-run Korea Water Resources Corp. (K-Water) which successfully completed an ambitious restoration project of the country’s four major rivers from 2010 to 2011, is now seeking to share its water management know-how with Thailand, China and Morocco.”
A little over a year later (on October 1st), however, the very same newspaper published an article entitled “4-rivers project a bottomless pit” which includes the following:
“In one word, the four-river refurbishment project was a fraud,” said Prof. Kim Jung-wook of the Graduate School of Environmental Studies at Seoul National University. “We need more natural ways to improve water circulation structure rather than artificial facilities which contribute little to water management.”
Lee Sang-don, a law professor at Chung-Ang University and former member of the ruling Saenuri Party’s now-defunct emergency panel, echoed this, describing the project as “a disastrous project for the country.”
Now that the Four Rivers project is no longer cloaked in greenwash, it is time yet again to ask: when will lawmakers and media publicly accept that Saemangeum is also an ecologically disastrous and economically-wasteful mega-project? For the good of the nation and to climb out of that particular bottomless pit, the Saemangeum sluice-gates need to kept open, tides allowed to return (at least to the outer part of the system), and extravagant construction plans scaled down.