[CAMPUS COMMENTARY]Environment is more precious than money

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[CAMPUS COMMENTARY]Environment is more precious than money

For many Koreans, March 16 was a day to remember. On that day, the Korean baseball team defeated Japan in the World Baseball Classic. But so enthralled were younger viewers with the ball game, that many of them overlooked some other, equally important news: The Supreme Court’s decision that the Saemangeum reclamation project should continue.
Controversy has dogged the Saemangeum project since it began in 1991 but it wasn’t until August 2001 that an injunction was filed in an attempt to halt the project. Finally, on March 16 this year the Supreme Court voted 11 to 2 in favor of allowing the Saemangeum project to go on.
But here’s a question: What makes it so important to start this project again? An obvious answer would be money, as some 2 trillion won (around $2 billion) has already been spent, but environmentalists are warning that the cost to the environment could be far higher if the reclamation proceeds.
Defenders of the project point out that just 2.7 kilometers remain until the 33-kilometer (21-mile)-long land strip is complete. This is no defense given that wildlife in an area 140 times the size of Yeouido could be irreparably damaged.
It is a terrible irony that the Saemangeum project is taking place even though Koreans are taught from elementary school the importance of mud flats.
I learned that lesson again recently, as a member of “The Youthful Forest,” an environmental advocacy group for college students. For a week, we stayed near the mud flats at Saemangeum and watched how they function as a natural habitat for many animals. Without those mud flats, thousands of wetland animals would be without a home.
But this is only part of the story. I also heard that once the project is done, the tide will take two more hours to subside, meaning just 60 millimeters (2.5 inches) of rain could cause a flood.
While working as a volunteer at the camp, I met a couple of fishermen who said their livelihood is in danger because fish stocks are being depleted. The Supreme Court, however, says these are not sufficient grounds to stop the project.
It is disappointing that the court seems to believe it is so important to appear strong and decisive on issues as sensitive as Saemangeum. It left me wondering whether this project had become no more than a symbol of achievement for those in charge.

* Ms. Lee is the editor of The Argus, the English-language student newspaper at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies.

by Lee Sang-hee
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