In 2009, the Korean government decided to conduct a massive civil engineering project across Korea's four major rivers (the Nakdong, Han, Geum, and Youngsan Rivers). Having guzzled up approximately 22 trillion won(KRW), this 'Four Rivers Project' was about dredging a whopping 450 million ㎥ of sand from the entire region covered by the four main rivers, and constructing a lot of large weirs and dams. Since long before the Project officially began, Korean environmental activists, experts and related international NGOs had expressed their grave concerns and warned that the Four Rivers Project would become an environmental disaster.
We hear the much predicted disaster has happened in the Four Rivers’ sites after the project was finished. The source of people's drinking water is rampant with poisonous algae, and the water quality has irrecoverably worsened. The size of the wetlands existing in Korea, invaluable repositories of bio-diversity, has markedly decreased. Thousands of living species in Korea including those on the brink of extinction have drastically declined.
We, the NGOs, who have made the efforts to protect bio-diversity and ecosystem, have grave concerns over the future of the Four Rivers. The problem of the Four Rivers does not only belong to Korea. In the era when environmental deterioration and climate change have become global agendas, we all must protect our natural ecosystem across and beyond all borders. So it is with the Four Rivers. The rivers of Korea are also the rivers of the earth, a priceless 'wealth' that we must protect and nurture together for our own sustainable future.
In this sense, we are very pleased to learn that the Korean government is pursuing the policy of restoring the naturalness of the four major rivers currently. In February 2019, the Korean Ministry of Environment announced the release of a plan to dismantle some of the weirs in the Geum River and the Yeongsan River. We understand the plan includes comprehensive assessment and consultation for each restoration project, considering the environmental, social and economic effects of restoration. We also know that the Korean government is preparing measures to restore the naturalness of the Nakdong River and the Han River by evaluation of other weirs and dams. This is the first step towards restoration of the four rivers. We declare our support for restoring the naturalness of the four major rivers.
The international community has suffered because dams are damaging rivers and ecosystems. We have also learned about the adverse effects and are now moving toward restoration of rivers. Many countries around the world are pushing for restoration to natural rivers through the dismantling of weirs and dams. We hope that the Korean government will continue to pursue the policy of restoring the naturalness of the four rivers sharing the trend of international river management policy. We are looking forward to following your progress and sincerely hope that the Four Rivers will flow again.