People, nature converge at 4 major rivers (47)
By Kwon Do-youp
The number of people visiting areas around the country’s four major rivers up to early July crossed the 7 million mark, less than eight months after restoration of them was completed last October.
This figure compares with the 7.78 million people who saw Transformers 3, the biggest hit in the movie industry last year and more than the 6.81 million fans who headed to baseball parks to watch professional games.
It is also more than double the 3.03 million people who flocked to professional soccer matches and more than the 6.57 million who visited the Everland amusement park in Yongin, Gyeonggi Provine, and the 5.78 million crowding Lotte World in southern Seoul last year.
In the case of the four major rivers, namely the Han, Naktong, Kum and Yongsan, the number of visitors is expected to increase dramatically as the country heads into the summer vacation season. The popularity of facilities in and around them has been unexpectedly high only eight months after their “reopening.”
Nature and livelihood
What drives the popularity of the four major rivers? The main reason is the combination of nature and people’s livelihoods and how these fit comfortably with the changes and flow of the times.
This becomes more evident when you use search websites like Naver and Daum which immediately introduce facilities located around the four major rivers.
Among them are camping sites, cycling paths, fitness facilities and the availability of water sports which are most popular with visitors and sports enthusiasts.
You can jog along while enjoying the view of the blue waters of the rivers; dine while watching the sunset and wake up to the lovely mists of the early morning.
There are ecological parks that stretch over a total area of 130 square kilometers and 18 large-scale camping sites, helping to fill some of the shortages of cultural and recreational space. In fact, many will agree that these facilities help to improve the quality of life to a considerable extent.
There are cycling paths that extend over a total course of 1,757 kilometers along the four major rivers which is a symbolic and cultural part of what has been called the “Four Major Rivers Restoration Project.”
And while people indulge in nature, there are also important considerations about the environment. They are often sensitive to environmental values and are willing to participate in preserving the ecology.
In many ways, visits to the four major rivers encourage people to share their personal experiences, particularly from the environmental perspective.
In the early stages of the restoration project, there were concerns about environmental implications but there is ample evidence that it has in fact played a vital role in Korea’s efforts toward green growth.
As part of the project, 33,313 greenhouse plots over a space of 6,791 hectares, which had been regarded as major sources of water pollution, were completely refurbished.
More than 3.9 trillion won was invested in water quality improvement projects, including the construction of wastewater treatment facilities.
Among the highlights of the project is the installation of natural water paths — taking into consideration the distinctive characteristics of each area — which has been key to preserving eight varieties of fish in danger of becoming extinct.
The environmental value of the four major rivers restoration does not stop at merely restoring the ecology of the areas surrounding them.
Small-scale hydropower facilities were constructed to generate 270 million kilowatt electricity every year, sufficient to satisfy the needs of a city of 250,000 residents.
This environmentally-friendly generation of electricity substitutes for the import of 450,000 barrels of crude oil worth 60 billion won.
It also equates to a reduction of 180,000 tons of carbon dioxide, thus contributing, at least in a small way, to the prevention of global warming.
Minimizing flood damage
Moreover, the restoration of the rivers has proven to have played an important role in minimizing flood damage last summer when there were unprecedented amounts of rainfall.
Farmers active around the four major rivers, who constantly fall victim to flooding, saw their damage drop to just one tenth of what had previously been the annual average.
Even during this spring, when there was an unexpectedly serious drought, the water level at the rivers actually increased by 1.8 meters, making it possible to maintain a stable supply of water.
Prior to the restoration of the four major rivers, quality control had been primitive at best. Over the past 10 years (2001-2010), damage from floods totaled 1,482 billion won with rehabilitation costs hitting 2.4 trillion won.
In fact, rehabilitation costs far exceeded preventive investments, testifying to the reality that the management of rivers took a backseat in the overall land development.
Compared to the investment of 77.9 trillion won spent on road pavement and 36.4 trillion won for the construction of railways between 2001 and 2010, the comparable figure for river management remained at 8.8 trillion won.
Looking at it from this perspective, the restoration project has created a whole new paradigm in terms of river management
‘New Green Deal’
The ambitious project has presented fundamental solutions to droughts and flooding while preserving the ecological environment and culture while helping to revive regional economies.
It is a Korean “Green New Deal” that has been an important part of keeping the country developing even as the global financial “crisis” continues.
Perhaps for this reason, there are numerous accolades for the achievements of the restoration project. It is deemed as a timely project, particularly in view of the climate change gripping the attention of the world.
Achim Steiner, secretary general of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), has said the project was truly an example of green investment which secures a stable supply of water while battling climate change.
Julia Marton-Lefevre, secretary general of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), complemented the restoration effort as a rational one.
She observed that many rivers in Europe were too contaminated for fishing or swimming but respective governments introduced determined programs to revive them.
Also, Angel Gurria, secretary general of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, emphasized the outstanding example that Korea has set in terms of resolving problems related to water.
During a visit to Korea in spring this year, Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra visited some of the sites along the four major rivers and made emotional comments about the results of the restoration project.
Just some time ago, it was a source of envy to see people in the large cities of Europe swimming and fishing in rivers and to witness the dramatic changes that they have brought about.
But this is no longer the case. The tables have turned and Europeans are expressing their surprise at the accomplishments Korea has made in terms of reviving its rivers. There are ample reasons to take pride in the ecological evolution that has taken place right here at home.
Kwon Do-youp was appointed as the first minister of land, transport and maritime affairs in 2011 after a long career at the Ministry of Construction and Transportation. Prior to the appointment, he was president of the Korea Expressway Corporation. He graduated from the department of civil engineering at Seoul National University and did his master’s in public administration at Syracuse University in New York.
Environmental restoration is a term common in the citizens environmental movement.
Environmental restoration is closely allied with (or perhaps sometimes used interchangeably with) ecological restoration or environmental remediation. In the U.S., remediation is the term used more in the realms of industry, public policy, and the civil services.
Environmental restoration involves many different approaches and technologies depending on the requirements of the situation.
It can involve heavy equipment like cranes, graders, bulldozers or excavators and also handle processes like the planting of trees and other vegetation. It can involve high-tech processes such as those applied in the careful environmental control required in fish-hatchery procedures. Today, computerized regulation is often being utilized in these processes. Computer-based mapping has also become an important dimension of restorative work, as has computer modeling.
In some situations, environmental restorative work is handled entirely by professionals working with skilled operators and technicians. In others, ordinary local community members may do much of the work, acquiring skills as the project proceeds.