Controversial state project over Nakdong River
The Nakdong River, in my mind, always has an image of a mother; one who embraces life. The river is valued as a life line in South Gyeongsang Province and is the habitat for various animals that are endangered.
The Nakdong is also registered on the Ramseur Agreement as a wetlands sanctuary for migratory birds to rest before their long flight home. On top of that, it provides drinking water for people living in the province, which is a region that encompasses about a quarter of the land in South Korea. From the time I attended middle school, I didn’t have any time to go back to that comforting and motherly riverside. I only had the chance to visit it while working as an intern in the Busan Federation for Environmental Movements. When I was able to pay attention to the Nakdong River again, a dispute between the government and the federation was at its height.
The government has kept trying to achieve its project of restoring the four major rivers of Korea. Its main goal was to build an irrigation system and dams, and ultimately to dredge a canal that runs through all of the four rivers. The government’s move was to improve water quality, prevent flooding and to solve chronic water shortage problems. It succeeded in beginning this last November.
But many environmental groups throughout the country opposed the plan, saying it would cause environmental destruction. After failing to stop construction, they used a final protests attempt which was sit-ins. Two men, members of the federation, started a protest against the “restoration” on top of a crane belonging to Hamanbo crane from July 22, when I visited the river.
On my way there, I happened to visit a small restaurant to eat dinner. It was run by an old man with a cook from outside the village. While eating, I asked what the Nakdong River was like these days. The owner told me that it was undergoing the refurbishment planned by government. “Everyone in town likes what is being done to the river. The government promised us an irrigation system that will manage water close to farms, and to provide us with the sand and mud from the river dredging to use to fertilize our farmland.” He also added, “I don’t get why those environmentalists are so engaged in ceasing this helpful development”.
When I arrived at the river bank, people from the environmental organization had already gathered for their candlelit vigil. They gathered to encourage the two men on the crane. Not only environmentalists but monks and ordinary family members were also involved. There was even a family from Geojedo, seeking to prevent changes on the Nakdong River. The mother of the family felt something was wrong in changing something that had been a comforting place for them for so long into a structured artificial park.
Although the people living alongside the river support the reconstruction, environmentalists among others are against the change. Each group takes their stance for their own good without any consideration of other opinions. Is there any possible way that people can be willing to yield their benefits to the bigger welfare for the common good? On my way home, the thought of what was the right thing to do constantly bothered me.
That night, Nakdong River was flowing just like every other day, not knowing the dispute that surrounds it.
Lee Ji-yun is a first grader studying at Hankuk Academy of Foreign Studies in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province.