Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Ecology or Economy?

Both of our Catholic newspapers this week carried the story of 1,104 priests and 5 bishops who signed a statement in opposition to the government's 4-River Project, and agreed to continue the protest until the project is stopped. Opposition is gathering momentum and includes most of the religious groups in the country. Catholics promised to have Masses and sit-in protests at construction sites and to join the national campaign against the project and support, in the June nationwide local elections, political candidates who are against the project.

The government's response is to stress the benefits of the project: more water during times of drought, no flood damage or pollution, better water quality, more attractive sites and towns along the rivers, bicycle paths, river travel, more parks and places of amusement and entertainment. During and after construction many jobs will be created and when the project is completed the proposed changes are expected to bolster tourism and provide a needed stimulus to the economy.

An impressive list of benefits, but the anti-project supporters, environmentalists for the most part, have a rebuttal to every one of these benefits as seen by the government. They see the loss of wetlands and harm to wildlife. Farmers will lose land, the sledging of the water bed and construction of dams will add to the present pollution and, to make matters even worse, it will cost a fortune.

The president had overcome similar opposition several years ago. As mayor of Seoul, in 2005, he silenced critics when he cleaned up a long-forgotten sewage-filled stream in Seoul and let it run again through the center of the city. Now a popular sight-seeing destination for many, it is acknowledged by all as a very successful project.

The attempt of the government to convince the people of the need for the project has been a failure. Most of the citizens are opposed, and you have the ecologists and the specialists opposed; those who have their eyes on the economy and the construction companies see this as a great bonanza. The project has started and the elections will be coming up in June and no doubt the 4 river project will be brought into the picture. Again we have the fight between development readily seen, and aspects of life that are less open to scrutiny. In preparations for the elections, the 4-River Project will again have its pros and cons debated. If the government goes ahead with the project the verdict will come in the future.

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