4-Rivers Project Smells of Danger

      June 09, 2009 12:27

      The government now budgets W22.2 trillion for the mega-project to improve the country's four main rivers, of which W16.9 trillion is for the main project and W5.3 trillion to repair tributaries and improve water quality (US$1=W1,255). The final budget is a whopping 59.7 percent higher than the estimated cost of W13.9 trillion the government said it would cost in December, when the project was announced. If we include the cost of related projects by individual government ministries, the total cost is said to rise to almost W30 trillion.

      In the beginning, the government said it was focusing on Korea's four main waterways. But now that has expanded to their main tributaries as well as the Seomjin River. The total cost increased 60 percent after expenses factored in to improve the quality of water following the construction of dams.

      The purpose of the project is to ensure a steady supply of water, prevent flood damage and improve water quality. There are all necessary, but there is considerable controversy whether the project is so urgent that taxpayers need to spend W22 trillion on it. Making matters worse, if the cost has already ballooned in a bare few months, there is no guarantee that it will not keep rising after the project is launched. For the epic Saemangeum land reclamation project, the original budget was around W1 trillion but rose to W3.3 trillion, while the cost for the Seoul-Busan high-speed rail project increased more than three times to W19.9 trillion.

      The government says work will start in October after an environmental impact study. Dredging the rivers could destroy the foundations of ecosystems and affect the quality of tap water by muddying the water. Environmental impact studies usually take a year, since researchers have to look at the effects in different seasons. There are fears that only four months of studying the environmental impact may not be enough.

      Major state projects need detailed planning and thorough consideration of the estimated cost and potential side effects. And it takes time to win the support of locals and civic groups. The project to revive the four rivers, which has already changed so much over the course of a few months and whose total costs have risen so rapidly, seems positively dangerous.

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