[Viewpoint] A moderate four river course

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[Viewpoint] A moderate four river course

The National Assembly is engaged in an inflammatory dispute whose outcome is uncertain. The four river project is the hot topic. Arguments on both sides are poles apart.

One side touts the project as vital to improve water quality and provide greater water reserves. The other side argues construction will only contaminate the water, something that will spell disaster by helping to spread disease during floods.

Environmental perspectives are equally incompatible.

Supporters claim the renovation will make the areas around the rivers more scenic while critics warn creating reservoirs along the rivers can unnaturally affect the ecological balance. They cite the case of the Paldang dam where winter temperature around the area falls below that of other Yangpyeong areas and that humidity around the dam has brought about ecosystem changes.

Yet weirs on the Han River helped to create abundant and clean water without having a negative ecological impact.

Without time travel, one cannot definitely say what the future will actually be. If our waterways indeed turn more productive and picturesque, we will be glad that we went along with the plan. But if they fail, we will kick ourselves for not presenting stronger opposition to the plan.

Experts are of little help at this stage as they are as equally divided. So what should we do?

We must examine both environmental and economic aspects.

When proven environmentally safe, we should develop and improve our land. While traveling in wealthy countries, we are impressed by their many public projects.

There are, of course, areas that must be preserved in their natural state. National parks and greenbelt areas should be preserved as national heritage sites. But if we have the resources, we are obliged to beautify and enrich our land. Such efforts are also necessary to make our nation one of the best places to live on earth.

For such a goal, we may have to pay less heed to extreme environmentalists because we cannot go on forsaking necessary development projects to protect a couple of species.

Next we need to ask if the 10-year multibillion-dollar river project holds water in an economic sense. Critics argue now is no time to waste money on profligate pork barrel projects.

We must prioritize our objectives and spend our resources on what is best for our future. We should concentrate our forces to sharpen our competitive edge in the global market.

Aggressive investment in education, technological innovation and research development can assure that future. If we are creating a massive stimulus to jump-start an economy struggling from the global financial crisis, we must spend it wisely and with foresight.

Some say we should instead spend more to help the needy and jobless and build a firmer social safety net for the present.

Personally, I think the four river project is better than the unsustainable option of constant new spending. Yet I still doubt if the project is absolutely imperative for our future competitiveness.

Our descendants can either benefit or be hurt by its fallout.

It is a question of leaving behind a proud heritage of a beautiful and resourceful land to future generations.

This should not be an issue for political or ideological wrangling.

Local government heads affiliated with the opposition Democratic Party stood side by side with the president cutting tape at the groundbreaking ceremony of the river project.

Yet legislators from the same party boycotted a preliminary budget examination in opposition to the river plan.

Anything that goes to the National Assembly turns into an endless debate.

The opposition is in knee-jerk resistance because if they bow to the government, they can jeopardize the upcoming election.

The ruling party also seeks to ramrod the plan to indulge the president. Both sides are self-serving and nearsighted.

No one knows what the future holds. But as the past makes the present, our present will shape the future.

If we live today right, we have a hopeful future as proven by history. A noble mind and reasonable judgment will make for a sound future.

And the government should address its ambitious project with such a state of mind.

It should always take a moderate and long-term approach. It should first test a reservoir in one area and wait to see if it proves to be a windfall or a disaster before employing the same plans on other areas.

The Yeongsan and Nakdong Rivers can be the first place for a trial as water there is least abundant.

The ruling and opposition parties should render as much wisdom as possible because they are in the process of making a legacy to hand down to future generations.

*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Moon Chang-geuk

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