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Church protests over Korean river projects: The Church of England Newspaper, May 30, 2010 May 31, 2010

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Korea, Church of England Newspaper, Environment.
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First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

A massive government works programme to re-engineer South Korea’s rivers has drawn protests from the country’s Christian and Buddhist leaders.

The government’s plan to tame nature has brought together the country’s Christians and Buddhists in an unusual coalition to stop the project.  The National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK), the Anglican Church of Korea, the Roman Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea, Won Buddhist officials, and the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism’s committee on the environment have banded together to protest the government’s plans, holding rallies and inter-faith prayer services to raise public awareness of the dangers the development poses to the environment.

Korean President Lee Myung-bak — the former CEO of Hyundai Construction—has proposed a “Green New Deal” public works project to jump start the economy and generate 340,000 jobs.  The Green New Deal seeks to develop solar, wind, and tidal power, increase production of hybrid vehicles, expand public transport and the nation’s rail network, and institute a national tree-planting campaign.

The centerpiece of the Green New Deal, however, is the Four Rivers Restoration Project. With an estimated price tag of 22.2 trillion won (£12.5 billion) the government plans on developing Korea’s four major river systems; the Han, Nakdong, Geum, and Youngsan.

The goal of the programme is to prevent water shortages, control flooding, and create an “eco-friendly” space for tourism and development.  It plans to construct 16 new dams, rebuild 87 old dams, reinforce 209 miles of riverbanks, and dredge 570 million cubic meters of sediment from 428 river miles. On 14 minor tributaries the government will build five new dams and refurbish nine old ones, and encase 151 miles of riverbank in concrete.

On April 26 the Catholic Church held a “Life and Peace Mass to Urge an End to the Four Major Rivers Restoration Project” at Seoul’s Myeong-dong Cathedral and on May 24, Christians joined Buddhists for a joint prayer meeting at Silleuk Temple in Yeoju, Gyeonggi Province, issuing a joint declaration calling for an end to the project.  Prayer services have also been held at the Anglican Cathedral of St. Mary the Virgin and St. Nicholas in central Seoul to raise public awareness.

South Korea’s countryside is one of the most developed in the world.  Over the past twenty five years the government has built 18,000 dams, and only the Dong river is free of any artificial barrier.  A number of projects have proven to have had long term deleterious effects upon the environment.

The Saemangeum reclamation project on the west coast of the Korean peninsula was built over the estuaries of two rivers and a large tidal flat.   The development wiped out a habitat critical to the survival of migratory birds on the Australasian flyway.  Bureaucratic wrangling over how to develop the Saemangeum has left the landfill, some six times the size of Manhattan, vacant.

The Rev. Yang Jae-seong of the Christian Environmental Solidarity Movement told the Hankyoreh newspaper the united religious front against the project “stems from the fact that the proper role of religion is to preserve and save life.”

“All of the destruction of life and the development that we have witnessed over the years requires much in the way of repentance,” Mr. Yang said, “but the religious sector has stepped forward because it can no longer stand by and watch the forceful push for the development of the four rivers.”

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