[REPORTER'S DIARY]Water Shortage Belongs to All of Us

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[REPORTER'S DIARY]Water Shortage Belongs to All of Us

The prolonged drought has become a matter of intense national concern. Efforts to overcome the dry spell are in full swing, as people begin raising funds to help its main victim, the farmer, while soldiers and government officials mobilize to help irrigate farmland.

Basically, Korea lacks water.

Although the nation's yearly precipitation stands at 1,274 millimeters, compared with the world average of 973 millimeters, the usable rainfall per person hovers around 2,900 tons a year because of Korea's high population density. This is just 11 percent of the global median.

Moreover, about two-thirds of rainfall is concentrated in the monsoon season between June and September, and we have no choice but to let most of the rainwater flow straight to the sea.

However, Korea's daily use of water per person amounts to 400 liters of water on average due to the Korean food culture, which entails the high use of water, while that of Britain stand at 323 liters and 281 liters for France.

No wonder we cannot help worrying about water shortage: We use a lot of water when we do not have enough.

In 1999, the Ministry of Environment took measures to conserve water resources by providing water-saving equipment and building facilities to reclaim and reuse wastewater, but it has failed to provide fundamental solutions.

Its plan to raise tap water charges by 2001, which is a core measure to cut back on the use of water, has hit a snag, as the government has had to put it on the back burner in order to implement anti-inflationary policies.

Experts say that it will be inevitable after all to build as many dams and reservoirs as possible to hold water supplies. Currently, areas where water is supplied from dams account for just 52 percent of the country.

These areas can withstand the drought for the next 70 days because they can be supplied by the dams as long as the facilities do not go dry. The hardest hit are the remaining regions of the country which do not have the benefit of dams.

It is thus an urgent task to build dams for these regions.

However, dam construction has been consistently thwarted by opposition from residents whose villages are to be submerged, and by environmental groups. These green groups oppose dam projects because the facilities would disrupt the ecosystem and because the benefits would go to people downstream, while the inhabitants of places where dams are to be built would be displaced.

In consideration of these points, the Ministry of Construction and Transportation is drawing up plans to provide more support to residents of submerged areas and build environmentally-friendly dams.

It is too early to say whether the plans will produce the desired results.

I hope that the ongoing dry spell becomes an opportunity to gather national wisdom and seek ways to solve this slippery issue.

The writer is a reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Cha Jin-yong

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