PSPD in English Socio-Economic 2001-07-07   1322

Save the Saemangum

Save the Saemangum

International spotlight on the wetland development plan
Ricardo Navarro, the international chairman of the Friends of the Earth International, which is renowned for its energetic activities in world conservation field, visited Korea on June 19th. During his eight-day-visit to the peninsula, he had met a few top-level policy makers in order to convey his deep concern on the controversial Saemangum reclamation project, and shared communication on the pending issue with some influential NGO leaders including Wonsoon Park, the secretary-general of People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy.
Korean environment groups said they received approximately a thousand supporting emails from international environment groups such as WWF, Wetland International, Birdlife International and so on, in terms of their efforts to stop the development of the area.

How the project is going on
The Kim administration announced last May that the Saemangum reclamation project would go ahead. Initially the astronomical money spending project was launched in 1993 to boost local economy of Chollabuk-Do province and secure enough food supply by transferring the wetland into land use. Before launching the project, a vast research on environment impact assessment in the area was done under the former No administration in 1988. But it missed several significant points such as water quality degradation, destruction of ecosystem, and disastrous impact on the wetland. Problems lie not only in disastrous impact on environment. It is also necessary to put a tremendous amount of money into carrying out the plan.
Not surprisingly the project met fierce opposition from environment groups and experts, and eventually the government agreed to stop the project going further to search for a better solution.
A newly organized task force team composed of experts from the government and civil groups was empowered to do the duty. The Committee’s activities were focused on three major areas: environment impact, water quality preservation and economic aspect of the project. Over one year’s survey on the project, the public-private team concluded that at present time it is hard to conclude what the cost and benefit of the development project would be.
Intrinsic feature of the big scale project is marked by needing huge money and having great potential environment impact negatively, which could be irreversible hindered the team from producing a full review of the project during such a short time. Instead the team recommended the government that more research and thorough investigation on the project should be done before making a big decision. But their opinion was ignored, and the Kim administration unveiled the development plan of which a key part is how the wetland would be developed in environment friendly way.

The left several controversial issues
The announcement infuriated environment groups which continued to make efforts to stop developing the area, and tried to find out better option to preserve its ecosystem, biodiversity and water quality from pollution.
They astutely organized quite a number of protests against government in a variety way to reverse government’s decision on the wetland, while trying to let the public aware of what would happen if the development plan is going forward in an effort to get enough support from them to stop it.
A recent poll says that over 80 percent of Koreans oppose the government’s decision to push the development plan.
And some of the participants from civil groups who joined the public-private committee led by the government resigned, and criticized the government’s plan. They disclosed that there was some trouble in the decision making process by the government, and warned that the development plan would result in a massive destruction in marine ecosystem and biodiversity of the area.
Not only outside the government was there severe criticism on the plan. Also inside the government there was a serious dissent on the project. The Ministry of Maritimes and Fisheries, and the Ministry of Environment opposed the plan arguing 200 Kilometers of tidal flats would disappear by the plan.

The World Environment Day without “Environment”
On the World Environment Day June 5th, environment groups refused to join government-organized commemoration event. Instead they celebrated their “birthday” in their own way.
While appointing the President Kim as a person who destroyed environment, they announced the statement on the World Environment Day without “Environment”.
They urged the government that the development plan should be reversed so as to meet the lofty goal of sustainability. The principle “Stop it first, and seek better option later” is available, they added.


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