[Viewpoint] Use river project to solve water crisis

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[Viewpoint] Use river project to solve water crisis

The drought since last fall is one of the worst in history, and the water supply shortage in southern Gangwon Province and other parts of the country are yet another affliction for citizens already suffering from the economic crisis.

In a report published in 1990 by Population Action International, a United States-based private research group, Korea was categorized as a “water-stressed” country. Of course, if you take the size of the country and high population density into account, labeling Korea as water-stressed, using the measure of annual rainfall divided by the total population, might be unreasonable.

Overall annual rainfall began to rise in the 2000s compared to the 1970s, with summer rainfall suddenly increasing and winter precipitation decreasing. As a result, the country is suffering from repeated and aggravating cycles of drought and flood every year. At the same time, Koreans began to realize that we are in a crisis of water management.

The imbalance in rainfall is an atmospheric phenomenon caused by reckless development and consequent environmental damage. Without an effective prescription, the imbalance is likely to aggravate natural disasters such as drought and flood, threatening the entire country and the lives of the people.

Therefore, the basic objective of the Four Rivers Restoration Project - to prepare for the dry season by enhancing the capacity to accommodate heavy seasonal rainfall - is indispensable for the safety of our citizens.

When a doctor treats a patient, his prescription has to take into account not only the survival of the patient but also his or her quality of life; the doctor has to aim for complete recovery, not a temporary measure. Similarly, the four rivers project as a water management solution should go beyond flood control and strive to improve the overall quality of life for all citizens. It should help them overcome the ongoing economic crisis and prepare for environmentally friendly growth in the future.

We need to think inventively and ensure the restoration project ends up being a comprehensive land management system for the future development of the country, not just a conventional civil engineering project like past “river improvements,” which have simply involved building dams and artificial structures. Moreover, the scope should be expanded to the major tributaries of the four rivers and the surrounding urban areas.

In this context, the multipurpose Four Rivers Restoration Project pursued by the Lee Myung-bak administration is very well-timed. First of all, flood control on the four rivers will resolve the water shortage and contribute to permanent disaster prevention and water quality improvement. Secondly, by making the surrounding regions along the four rivers environmentally friendly and utilizing the riverside space in nearby cities, cultural tourist attractions can be developed. The river project will not only boost local tourism but also offer places for leisure and rest, positively contributing to citizens’ quality of life.

Moreover, newly created sites from the four rivers project will be used to generate pollution-free reusable energy such as solar power and play the role of an advance base for green industry. Finally, we can expect considerable job growth in the manufacturing and service industries as well as in construction if cities near the rivers are used as the core of local economic development.

However, the government needs to review the project from different angles instead of unilaterally pushing for it. There certainly are many concerns associated with the Four River Restoration Project. Similar cases can be found in history.

The Han River development of the 1980s is a good example. Many people expressed opposition and maintained a skeptical attitude on the development of the Han River. Their point was that the project would cause adverse effects on the Han’s water quality and ecosystem and lead to more natural disasters. But now that the Han River has been developed, water quality has been dramatically improved, and animal and plant species that had once left the polluted river have returned. Today, the Han River provides a pleasant space for recreation and leisure for citizens.

Recently, President Lee Myung-bak ordered the Cabinet to be prudent when pursuing the restoration project. The president himself effectively expressed his clear intent to set the project apart from conventional civil engineering construction-driven river works.

Using the opportunity, the government is expected to do its best to prepare policies to make sure the project becomes a comprehensive land management system encompassing nearby urban areas and provide a foundation for a second leap forward.

*The writer is a professor of urban and civil engineering at Hongik University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kang Jun-mo
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