[OUTLOOK]Dong River a Harbinger of CatastropheSad news about the Dong River of Kangwon province is heard continuously. Many civic groups, residents of the area and even the president collaborated to block the building of a dam on the river. However, despite our efforts to protect the river's natural surroundings, things have not gone well.
The quality of the river water dropped to substandard last month, and a huge green tide broke out, killing thousands of fish. Estimates show that polluted water caused by a road construction site upstream might be the cause.
One year after the dam project was canceled, the Dong River, which was once dubbed as the "treasure house of the ecosystem," containing many rare species, such as otters and goosanders, had changed into a "dirty river."
The destruction of nature by human beings has killed the fish and destroyed the quality of the river's water. Tons of waste added by thousands of vacationers, foul water from restaurants, and reckless development to attract tourists have destroyed the river's surroundings.
Some rue the fact that the dispute over the construction of the dam drew people to the "treasure" located near a mountain village in Kangwon province.
The Minister of Environment Kim Myong-ja lamented the situation, saying we did not scrap the plan to build a dam to see the situation turn bad. She added that the dirty Dong river was a shame and that the waste by tourists had silently killed the ecosystem.
The minister also appealed to environmental civic groups, the local government and residents to do their best for the recovery of the environment, saying the cancellation of the dam project ought not to lead to huge environmental damage
The ministry of environment is now trying to designate the Dong River area as a "natural resting area" where human traffic and development would be limited. But the plans are drifting amid confrontations among local governments, who have different interests.
While wasting precious time in arguments and counter-arguments, I wonder whether the environment of the Dong River will be reduced to a level that may not be recoverable.
According to the Ministry of Environment, following phenol contamination of the Nakdong River in 1991, 15 trillion won ($12 billion) was spent during the last 10 years to improve the quality of river water in Korea, the achievement rate of the target projects remained at a regrettable 14 percent.
This was the case especially with the quality of the Paldang dam waters on the Han River, where millions of dollars were spent to improve the water quality. However, the result was that the quality level deteriorated to 3rd degree from 2nd degree in 1991. This experiment demonstrated to us the harsh realities of recovering damaged environments.
Another is the Nogodan area of Mount Chiri, which as destroyed by endless tourist visits , but which is now showing possibilities of recovery. It was opened again after ten years of "nature's resting" during which the entry into designated areas is limited.
In this regard, I would say, our excursion culture or behavior has to be changed. During July and August this summer, there were 21million visits to the six beach resorts in the Pusan area, which was 22 percent more than last year. They reportedly left behind thousands of tons of waste.
It is almost impossible to figure out how many people travel around the country to enjoy their summer holidays. But I am quite sure that they leave a huge amount of waste at resorts.
A few days back, I saw a program that showed heaps of waste that had been discarded by people and the disorder they had caused in their vacationing mood. It is indeed shameful that our vacation culture remains at the same level as before, though our income and general culture level have increased.
We need to do away with our callous attitudes and pay more respect to the nature around us.
The writer is chief city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Han Cheon-soo