Save 4 Major Rivers in S. Korea

I am writing to draw your attention to the so-called '4 Major Rivers Restoration Project', a set of very large development projects that threatens to destroy riverine ecosystems and biodiversity in South Korea.

President Lee Myung-bak of South Korea is so much development-oriented and his prime pledge at the presidential election in 2007 was construction of so-called the "Korea Grand Canal (Great Korea Canal, or Korean Peninsular Great Waterway)" which was to link 4 largest rivers of the country for inland navigation.

When faced with strong opposition from the people and environmental groups from home and abroad, he promised in June 2008 that he would not proceed the project.

Lee even mentioned that "Korea will try harder to restore degraded wetlands and rivers", when he delivered a congratulatory speech at the opening ceremony of the 10th Conference of Parties of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar COP10) in Changwon, S. Korea, on 28 October 2008.

Then, he came back with so-called "4 Major Rivers Restoration Project" in December 2008, one month after the Ramsar Conven Meeting was over.

The master plan of the project was made public in 8 June 2009. It was proposed to store water to be prepared for drought and water shortage, and to prevent floods by building more than 20 dams on the main stream of the 4 rivers, raising almost 100 dams on tributaries, 377km of river bank strengthening and 691km of dredging to keep the river water 4-6m deep.

The project will potentially prevent fish from laying eggs in the river shallows, eliminate riverine wetlands where inhabited by numerous wild animals and plants including many endangered species, and pollute drinking water sources used by majority of the country%u2019s population.

The government proposes to spend 22 trillion Korean Won ($17.4 billion USD) of tax payers%u2019 money on the project. It is one of the economic stimulus packages to create employment in accordance with so-called %u201CLow Carbon & Green Growth%u201D promoted by the Lee government.

We, however, recognize that large construction projects are not a model for sustainable development in the 21st century. According to the recent poll conducted on 30 June 2009, 66.6% of the Korean populations oppose the project, while 27.1% of them support it.

The bulldozers will start in October 2009. There are only a few days left before the initiation of the project. Since its announcement, Korean environmentalists have organized sit-in protests from 9 June 2009 in downtown Seoul. We call for urgent action from the international communities and concerned people around the world.

I am writing to you to express my deep and sincere concern about the proposed Four Major River Restoration Project in your country.

I strongly urge you to reconsider your plan to construct 20 dams on the mainstreams of the 4 rivers and 101 more on tributaries and to extract 570 million cubic meters of sand and gravel in the name of %u201Crestoration of rivers%u201D.

This huge project will not restore nor improve the rivers, but only devastate them. It will cause destruction of habitats for many wild animals and plants and contamination of drinking water sources of many people. Moreover this is not a model for Low Carbon & Green Growth that you are initiating now, but the model of %u2018algae%u2019 due to deterrence of water flow from constructing weirs.

I understand that 22 trillion Korean Won ($17.4 billion USD) will be spent for this project. Such a large budget can be used to promote economically, socially, and environmentally sound programs in Korea.

Time Magazine chose you as an environmental hero in November 2007. I would like to ask you to show the world your new leadership in environmental protection as a real environmental hero by reconsidering the project.

On 5 May 2009, you also told a group of children that you would be an environmentalist. Please show them your leadership as an environmentalist by canceling this project.
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