South Korea rehabilitates rivers with $18 billion worth project

South Korea rehabilitates rivers with $18 billion worth project

SEOUL- Hürriyet Daily News
South Korea rehabilitates rivers with $18 billion worth project

A woman walks along the Han river at a park during the afternoon in Seoul, South Korea. The country has restored its four main rivers, including the Han in a bid to produce energy and avoid floods. AFP photo

South Korea is nearing completion on an $18 billion project that will realize President Lee Myung-bak’s vision for the restoration of the country’s four major rivers while supporting green power and green agriculture.

Three years and nearly $18 billion after Lee launched the project in 2009, the project is almost finished and will be completed before the end of the year, the project’s environmental administrator, Cha Yoon-jung, recently told the Hürriyet Daily News.

The project is called the “National River Restoration,” better known as the “Four Rivers Project,” a reshaping and rehabilitation of portions of four of South Korea’s biggest rivers, the Han in the northwest, the Nakdong in the southeast, the Geum in the west and the Yeongsan in the southwest.

The overall project was broken into three sets: revitalizing the four rivers, projects on their 14 tributaries and the restoration of other smaller-sized streams. The project had five key objectives as well, namely, securing abundant water resources to combat water scarcity; implementing comprehensive flood-control measures; improving water quality and restoring river ecosystems; creating multipurpose spaces for local residents and fostering regional development centered on the rivers.

The project is the biggest undertaken by Lee, who has been known as the “bulldozer” since the time he headed Hyundai Engineering and Construction Co.

20 new dams
The restoration entails the building of 20 new dams, the raising of 87 existing dams, the raising and buttressing of hundreds of kilometers of river banks, as well as the dredging of almost 700 kilometers of river to a depth of six meters.

Building numerous wastewater treatment facilities and removing area farms that pollute rivers will improve local river water quality, according to government sources.

Despite the annual heavy rain in summer, Korea can use only 25 percent of the total rainfall that flows to the sea because the remainder evaporates. If South Korea can put an additional 5 or 10 percent of rainwater to use, this will change the climate on the Korean Peninsula and prevent floods in the country, said Cha, adding that this would also provide recreational spots.

Cleaning the rivers, which have been suffering from the effects of pollution and industrialization for decades, is akin to cleaning the arteries of a person suffering from arteriosclerosis, she said.

Paraguay, meanwhile, is now looking to South Korea’s experience in the project for advice on revitalizing a new South American plan that accommodates environmental impacts and seeks an eco-friendly and sustainable development approach to developing one of the largest river systems in the world.

“They have a lot of experience regarding people and the environment, and especially in construction technology,” Paraguayan Ambassador to South Korea Ceferino Adrian Valdez Peralta was quoted as saying by the Korea Times on Jan. 8. “They have the technology and the know-how in dredging a waterway with the utmost respect for the environment, which is important to us, especially with regard to the people living along the river and in the surrounding area, the fishermen who live from the river.”

Turkish analysts have also said their country could take advice from South Korea on how to make better use of its rivers.