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Does Kim Still Care About Our Oceans?

Dec 26,2000
The President Should Recall His Earlier Words About Environmental Preservation

We all know that if tidelands are destroyed, then marine life becomes endangered. When tidelands are ruined, oceans die. About 90 percent of the earth''s marine life depends on tidelands at least during part of its life cycle.

The Saemangeum tidelands in North Cholla Province are vital to the existence of 77 percent of the fish population of the west coast. In addition to fishes, migratory birds also need the Saemangeum tidelands to maintain their lives. If the Saemangeum tideland disappears because of the reclamation project which has been dragging on since 1991, how will these species survive? Fishermen''s wives will also lose their livelihood; shellfish from this tideland area make up half of the total national consumption of these products.We should realize that tidelands are not useless muddy lands. They are the wombs where marine life grows. If tidelands cannot support and nurture such life, the oceans will be damaged. Red tides, sudden eruptions of damaging algae, will bloom along coastlines, eradicating whole populations of fish, clams and many other organisms from the sea.

The largest tidelands in West Coast area are at deadly risk right now. The Saemangeum tideland area, 140 times the size of Yeouido island in Seoul, is about to be destroyed by some unthinking people. Why do they want to destroy it? They hope to reclaim the area for 28,300 hectares of farmlands and create a new, freshwater Saemangeum lake.

Do we really lack a sufficient amount of agricultural land in our country? The answer may be no. Every year, more than 30,000 hectares of farmland are transferred to other purposes. What a contradiction it is! Farmlands are used for other purposes while a tremendous amount of money is poured into a a farmland reclamation project to destroy the Saemangeum tidelands and kill the marine life.

How much have we poured in to destroy the Saemangeum tidelands? In 1987, Roh Tae-woo, then a presidential candidate, made a pledge to carry out the reclamation project. It was launched in 1991 with an initial budget of 820 billion won ($683 million). More funds were appropriated every year although there was no fixed agenda for ending the project. Through 1999, 1,251 billion won has been poured in, but an additional seven trillion won is necessary to complete the project. An additional 28 trillion won will be required to develop the land for diversified industrial purposes, as North Cholla Province currently plans.Why do we have to destroy nature and spend enormous amounts of money in doing so? At last, many civic organizations and even Catholic nuns have started to raise their voices to protect and preserve the Saemangeum tidelands. Why does the government have to continue such a project? Is it a way to benefit construction companies? We even wonder if the lawmakers who approved the new funds every year to support this project might be connected to the construction companies.

Fortunately, 26 out of 50 members of the Special Committee on Budget and Accounts at the National Assembly finally signed a pledge to discontinue any further financial support for the Saemangeum Tideland Reclamation Project by refusing any further budget allocation. They agreed to use the currently developed lands for students to learn about marine life at tidelands or preserve the environment for birds to use as a habitat. Belatedly, signs appear that the project may be halted. We still feel uncertain, though, about whether all these efforts could be in vain because of political negotiations between leaders of the ruling and opposition parties. If the 113.4 billion won budget for next year''s reclamation work passes the National Assembly again, then Saemangeum will be destroyed even more completely.

I met President Kim Dae-jung at a TV debate in late 1997. He was then a presidential candidate and I was a member of a discussion panel. I learned for the first time from him that the tidelands in our West Coast are one of the world''s five most important such areas. Everyone, participants in the discussion and viewers who watched the program, were relieved. We were all assured that he would be an environmental president if he won the election.

We have so many unanswered questions. Does that man who is now the president still remember about issues of ocean life and tidelands? What will be the future of Saemangeum?

The writer is a professor of philosophy at Suwon University.

by Lee Ju-hyang




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