Continuing Need for Tong River Environmental Movement

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Continuing Need for Tong River Environmental Movement

The plan to build a dam on the ecologically important Tong River in Yongwol, Kangwon Province, was canceled only two months ago, after many twists and turns. However, the river itself is now dying. Now that the summer vacation season has arrived, the river is literally swarming with thousands of visitors and vacationers. Peddlers abound, bringing with them heaps of garbage and indiscriminate rafters. How can the Tong River survive such extreme conditions? Although we barely managed to prevent the construction of the dam, thoughtless selfishness continues to destroy the unspoiled beauty of the river, not to mention driving away rare species of fish and birds.

Starting immediately, we must carry out a genuine campaign to restore the Tong River. One important act would be to support the "Tong River Munhee Village Trust Movement." This movement was recently launched by the local environmental group the National Trust of Korea, which was founded earlier this year. The first stage of the movement is to raise money to buy 20,000 pyong (66,000 square meters) of land in the vicinity of Munhee Village in Mita-myon, Pyongchang-gun, for preservation and management and only about 500 million won ($440,000) in donations would be needed. The campaign‘s aim is to collect donations to restore the unspoiled scenic beauty of the Tong River and pass down an uncontaminated and rich natural environment to future generations.

The National Trust Movement first began in Britain in 1895 and now has more than 2.5 million members and an annual budget of $280 million. The Movement currently owns 1.5 percent of the entire area of Britain and 17 percent of coastal areas, which run for a total length of 857 km.

The Tong River has ample characteristics to be the starting point for a Korean-style Trust Movement. In particular, the area surrounding Munhee Village is the habitat of many species of animals and plants that are on the verge of extinction. It also boasts superb geographical sites, with Hwangsae Ford and Paekryong Grotto in the vicinity. Both are also excavation site for relics from the New Stone Age period. Local residents also have shown a favorable attitude to the trust movement.

We hope that the trust movement does not stop at only restoring the Tong River, but expand to other areas and to include cultural heritage sites as well. If the price of the land worthy of preservation is too high, we could resort to the Japanese method of signing a lease to preserve nature at a relatively low cost.

Korea, with its small size, is groaning under the reckless development projects taking place all over the country. There is hardly anywhere in the country that has not been dug up due to the local autonomous bodies' overzealous enthusiasm and greed for development. We hope that the central government and local governments respond to this movement, which was initiated by its citizens.

In particular, the National Assembly and the government should create the legal and institutional support that would add vitality to the trust movement. This would remove many of the current obstacles that are impeding the movement, such as the special laws on development. After having struggled so strenuously to prevent the construction of the dam, it is important that the people of Korea do not destroy the Tong River with their own hands or inaction.

by Joseph W. Chung

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