[Viewpoint] A tale of four rivers

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[Viewpoint] A tale of four rivers

Torrential rain has become routine in Korea. Weather experts say that rain over the Korean Peninsula is becoming more intense and severe. In fact, a study by the Korea Meteorological Administration shows that the number of days with rainfall of more than 30 millimeters (1.18 inches) per hour doubled in the last three decades. If nature is attacking us with what we now call “water bombs” - the local media’s term for damaging rain - better drainage is the obvious defensive response. The floods and landslides on Mount Umyeon, in southern Seoul, and in Paju and Dongducheon, Gyeonggi, tell us how important it is to have a proper drainage system.

During this year’s monsoon season, the rainfall in the central and southern regions were two to three times the average of previous years. Half of the average annual rainfall was concentrated during the monsoon season. However, there was little flood damage along the four main rivers.

Specialists and locals say that the dredging of the rivers expanded their capacities, allowing the heavy rainfall to flow quickly and easily. Residents of areas that once suffered chronic floods say they were saved from food damage thanks to the four-rivers restoration project. So far, silt that is the equivalent to four times the mass of Mount Namsan were removed from the four rivers, making the riverbeds 2 meters (6.6 feet) deeper on average.

Now there are four gigantic drains in the central and southern parts of the Korean Peninsula, namely the Han River, the Geum River, the Nakdong River and the Yeongsan River. As heavy rain becomes more common every summer, the drains will promptly flush the rainwater to the ocean. Because the main rivers can accommodate more water, tributaries will not overflow. More people can rest assured that they are safe from water damage. This summer, the four-rivers restoration project proved that floods can be prevented.

Now we are left with the task of securing water resources. If the 16 reservoirs can properly contain water during the dry season next spring, the four-rivers restoration project could be praised even more.

Of course, immediate success can’t be guaranteed. It may be even more important to maintain the rivers and streams than restoring them. We need to prevent erosion and pollution in branches and tributaries. The environment around the four rivers need to be preserved as well. When these challenges are addressed, the four rivers will be valuable assets to Koreans.

Opponents have been attacking the administration with absurd arguments. One of the most notorious theories was that the four-rivers project was in reality the first stage of the Grand Canal project. The government has denied that claim convincingly.

Many experts and the mainstream media, including the JoongAng Ilbo, Chosun Ilbo and Dong-A Ilbo, say the four-rivers project and the Grand Canal were not related. Building the Grand Canal would have required various other construction projects. Many bridges needed to be remodeled, floodgates had to be built on the reservoirs and passenger and cargo terminals needed to be built. Even when there were no signs of such activity, opponents still insisted that the government was getting ready to build the Grand Canal.

The Democratic Party is fighting hard to oppose a canal that is nowhere to be seen. The opposition party has created the Special Committee Opposing the Four-Rivers and Grand Canal Projects. The committee is headed by Lee In-young, a DP Supreme Council member and former activist. When he visited the Nakdong River in November 2010, he said construction on the Haman Reservoir was the first step of the Grand Canal.

He must have seen something no one else could. At a Supreme Council meeting in May, Lee insisted that the country needed to gear up for a serious catastrophe along the four rivers in the monsoon season this summer. However, the regions suffered not even a minor disaster. Lee In-young is not the only one raising a stink about the canal. Party chairman Sohn Hak-kyu and many other members of the party echoed his groundless claim, and no one challenged them.

The Grand Canal is one of three illusions that the biggest opposition party has been obsessed with, along with mad-cow disease and denying that North Korea was behind the Cheonan incident. Working and middle class Koreans, whom the Democratic Party claims to love, now enjoy American beef. The international community has recognized the Cheonan incident as a murderous crime by North Korea. The Grand Canal is nowhere to be seen. Yet, the Democratic Party continues to mislead citizens with distortion and demagogy.

Hindus in India believe their souls become clean when they bathe in the Ganges River. What if Democratic Party leaders take a dip in the four rivers? For sure, the four rivers are cleaner than the Ganges. The DP needs some scrubbing until the three illusions of mad-cow disease, the Cheonan and the Grand Canal disappear.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Kim Jin
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