[KS] Grand Korean Waterway
Afostercarter at aol.com
Afostercarter at aol.com
Wed Aug 26 02:33:36 EDT 2009
Dear Dong-Hun Lee,
I hope the short article below may be some help to you,
though it is a few months old and I claim no special expertise.
Its scope is wider than the GKW alone. Are you also
covering the Four Rivers Restoration Project?
There must be far more in Korean, e.g. NoCanal.org .
But even in English, and perhaps German, you can Google
your way towards the experts and then contact them.
For instance, I think the GKW's moving spirit, professor
Yu Woo-ik, is now out of government and back at SNU.
As to critics, some are mentioned here:
There is a lot of discussion not only in obvious places
like OhMyNews or the Hankyoreh - for instance
- but also the mainstream right-wing press, e.g.
In my own fairly limited research, I found BirdsKorea.org
very helpful and well-argued. For instance:
- And just for you, they also have this in German!
You'll find lots of other materials, links and contacts there too.
I'm glad you are doing a feasibility study. The government's
failure in that regard is, in my view, puzzling and worrying.
Honorary Senior Research Fellow in Sociology & Modern Korea, Leeds
Flat 1, 40 Magdalen Road, Exeter, Devon, EX2 4TE, England, UK
T: (+44, no 0) 07970 741307 (mobile); 01392 257753 Skype:
E: _afostercarter at aol.com_ (mailto:afostercarter at aol.com) ,
_afostercarter at yahoo.com_ (mailto:afostercarter at yahoo.com) W:
Draft Brief for Oxford Analytica by Aidan Foster-Carter.
Completed 17 May 2009
SOUTH KOREA: Rivers restoration project rekindles canal controversy
SUBJECT: The Lee Myung-bak administration’s environmental infrastructure
SIGNIFICANCE: Critics claim the government’s ideas are environmentally
unsound, and a ploy to resurrect the president’s dream of a nationwide canal
network via the back door.
ANALYSIS: On April 27 President Lee Myung-bak presided at the launch of an
interim plan to upgrade South Korea’s four major rivers: the Han, Nakdong,
Geum and Yeongsan. This is to be finalized by end-May, with work starting
in September after the rainy season.
The four river restoration project (4RRP) is a core part of a 50 trillion
won (37 billion dollar) ‘Green New Deal’ announced earlier this year.
Costing 14 trillion won, the 4RRP aims to:
* Provide more and better water. Two new dams and 13 reservoirs are to
store an extra 1.25 billion cubic metres of fresh water by 2012.
* This, and dredging the river beds, are also meant to improve control of
seasonal flooding. The latter has worsened since the 1970s, possibly
because of the effects of industrialisation.
* Amenites will include 1,411 kilometres of new cycling paths, sprucing up
cultural relics near the river banks, and general riparian beautification
for leisure and tourism purposes.
* It is hoped thereby to create some 190,000 jobs directly and more
indirectly, boosting local economies along the rivers and contributing to more
balanced regional development.
* New photovoltaic and small hydropower plants on or near the four rivers,
as well as larger green spaces, are supposed to reduce carbon emissions by
100,000 tons annually.
Canal redux? On February 26 prime minister Han Seung-soo said “there
should be no more controversy over this project,” calling it “the backbone of
our Green New Deal plan.”
However, this has not silenced claims that the 4RRP is essentially a
covert bid to revive Lee Myung-bak’s pet project for a ‘Grand Korean Waterway’
(GKW): a 540 kilometre cross-country canal linking Seoul to the port of
Busan in the southeast, costing 16 trillion won.
Mountainous and densely populated, South Korea has high logistics costs.
But few experts supported the GKW, fearing rather a white elephant and
ecological harm. Yet Lee persisted, until forced to drop the idea last June
amidst a deepening political crisis caused by protests against US beef imports
and complaints that he was riding roughshod over public opinion.
Water shortage. Among the varied aims of the 4RRP, water shortage is a
growing problem. Though South Korea’s yearly rainfall of 1,274 millimetres is
30% above the global average, its dense population means per capita water
supply will fall to 1,199 cubic metres by 2025; the UN regards 2,000 as the
safe minimum. Yet daily consumption per head at 397 litres is the highest
in OECD, suggesting a need for action at the demand as well as the supply
Protest. Environmental NGOs are influential in South Korea. Their record
* Holding up for several years construction of the world’s longest seawall
* Delaying the last section of the KTX high speed rail link from Seoul to
Busan, now set to open finally in 2010. On April 23 the Supreme Court
convicted Venerable Jiyu, a Buddhist nun, for obstructing this; most famously in
a 120-day hunger strike in 2005 against a planned 13 kilometre tunnel near
her monastery, said to threaten the habitat of a rare salamander.
Green? Ecological NGOs are predictably sceptical of the 4RRP and its green
* Birds Korea (BK) claims that the plans to dredge rivers and build dams,
weirs and bicycle paths will breach obligations under the Convention on
Biological Diversity and the Ramsar Convention on wetlands, to both of which
South Korea is a signatory.
* BK also argues that vegetated riverbanks, appropriately supported, would
be stronger and cheaper to maintain than concrete, as well as more
attractive for biodiversity and recreation.
* Or again, silting and stagnation from dams will harm rather than help
water quality. Tap water potability has become a public concern in recent
years; bottled water sales have soared despite official insistence that mains
water is safe to drink. Water quality and quantity and flood control alike
would be better guaranteed by restoring natural flood-plain wetlands.
* Conversely, a construction-focused approach will disturb and restrict
water flows, destroy natural river beds and edges, reduce biodiversity and
risk long-term ecological damage.
Bulldozer. Relatedly, critics query the underlying perspective and
priorities of this project:
* President Lee is a former CEO of Hyundai’s construction arm. Nicknamed ‘
bulldozer’, he is viewed as espousing an old-school view of development as
covering nature with concrete.
* The construction sector, accounting for nearly 20% of GDP, is suffering
in the downturn. This affords an excuse for public works projects as
Keynesian stimulus, and for job creation. On this basis the 4RRP, like the GKW
before it, is popular in most of the localities affected, with hopes of
regeneration and new employment outweighing environmental concerns.
* In Lee’s favour, his controversial removal of a raised motorway to
restore a long-hidden stream while mayor of Seoul is now applauded as much
improving the capital’s amenities.
Exempt? There is disquiet that no full feasibility studies have been done.
Indeed, a 1999 law mandating such a survey for all projects costing over
50 billion won was recently amended to exempt works for “natural disaster
prevention” – as the 4RRP is classified – from this.
Canal reduced. Similar unease affects another canal project, predating the
GKW and still going ahead. On May 6 President Lee visited the site of the
18 kilometre Gyeongin canal. By 2011 this will connect the Han river in
Seoul with the port of Incheon on the Yellow (West) Sea for cargo ships of up
to 4,000 tons.
Conceived in the 1990s, this idea was abandoned five years ago amid doubts
that it could be economic. In 2003 the Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI)
criticised officials for fudging a cost-benefit analyis by the Korea
Development Institute (KDI) to make it look viable. Lee revived the 2 billion
dollar project, but doubts persist and KDI’s study remains unpublished.
[Green growth. More broadly, on May 12 the Presidential Committee on Green
Growth said 12.6 trillion won will be invested by 2013 in green
technologies, to create half a million jobs. 4.2 trillion won will be spent on
Internet infrastructure, green IT products, and low-carbon transit systems,
while R&D into other various green technologies, such as high-efficiency solar
batteries and hybrid vehicles, will receive 8.4 trillion won.]
Seawall saga. If precedent is any guide, two relevant cases point in
* Confounding early scepticism, upgrading of the Han river in Seoul –
initally for the 1988 Olympics – has been a success. The river now is far
cleaner and more attractive than before.
* However, the main recent precedent for large-scale nature-remaking is
discouraging. At 33 kilometres, Saemangeum on the southwest coast is the world
’s longest seawall, infilling an estuary and adding 400 square kilometres
of reclaimed land. This remains controversial:
* Begun in 1991, the wall was not finished till 2006. Environmentalists
opposed it, saying it would destroy some of East Asia’s most important
wetlands, crucial for migratory birds. In 2007 the RSPB, a British bird
protection body, reported that seabirds were starving there.
* Conceived mainly to boost and placate the neglected Jeolla region, which
complained at missing out on major development projects, Saemangeum’s
precise purpose has never been agreed or clarified. Talk variously of industrial
or agricultural uses has come to little so far.
* Last year the area was designated a free economic zone (FEZ), again to
no visible effect.
* In March the central and provincial governments agreed to make Saemangeum
a “model green vacation spot”, international tourist resort, or even “a
Korean Dubai”. This latest twist appears no better thought out, nor more
likely to succeed, than its many predecessors.
CONCLUSION: Lee’s river restoration plan is ambitious and far-reaching.
Confidence that it will actually achieve its diverse goals would be higher if
feasibility studies had preceded it. If this goes ahead but proves to have
little or negative impact, especially on the environment, this will only
cement the president’s reputation for bulldozing projects without
consultation, and could work against the ruling party in 2012’s presidential and
In a message dated 8/26/2009 05:04:58 GMT Standard Time,
dong.lee at post.rwth-aachen.de writes:
Dear list members,
maybe some of you can assist in my search:
I'm currently writing my thesis about the Grand Korean Waterway which
will be a kind of feasibility report.
I don't know if there are any blueprints (official ones) or stats or
plans that deal about the canal (esp. Gyeongbu Canal).
So far I checked kwoonha.com and mltm website (Statistical yearbook),
and a bunch of reports which are so far not really useful to me.
My Problem is that although I'm a korean, I barely understand it since I
was born in Germany.
So if anyone has some english material about that matter (reports, maps,
detailed plans) I'd be very grateful. BTW: my major is economic
geography and the focus will be here on transport geography.
If you have questions please mail.
Sincerely Dong-Hun Lee
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