The following comment was written by Dr Nial Moores, Director of Birds Korea, and was recently posted on the Birds Korea blog. Birds Korea has been working on wetland and habitat conservation for many years, and was the organisation that properly detailed the effects of enclosing the huge Saemangeum tidal-flats on the Spoon-billed Sandpiper and other migratory shorebirds, and properly analyses claims of ‘sustainable development’ by the current government. The organisation has won recognition for its contributions to Korean society and has full NGO status. We always need supporters or members who recognise the importance of the work we do – please go to http://www.birdskorea.org/Support_us/BK-SU-membership.shtml.
The Real Financial Costs of the Four Rivers Project:
Is Thailand next?
Nial Moores, August 3rd.
On July 25th, one of the nation’s leading English-language newspapers reported that a “Dream Team” consortium of leading ROK construction industries was bidding for contracts for a major river dam-and-dredge program in Thailand: http://view.koreaherald.com/kh/view.php?ud=20120725001142&cpv=0.
This article, outlining aims by domestic construction companies to export four rivers methods to Thailand, provides no mention of the massive environmental impacts in the ROK of the Four Rivers project. It also omits mention of massive domestic opposition (as highlighted in the “Email from Civic Groups” sent to the IUCN on July 10th – previously/still (?) accessible in the right hand side bar at: http://www.iucnworldconservationcongress.org/about/korean_environmental_issues/).
And of course it also fails to mention the enormous, ballooning financial costs of the first stages of the Four Rivers project: 22 Trillion Won or about 20 Billion USD, according to a detailed investigative documentary broadcast by the national Korean Broadcasting System (KBS) on July 31st.
This KBS documentary (which can be downloaded in Korean at: http://news.kbs.co.kr/society/2012/07/31/2512539.html) apparently suggests numerous irregularities that everyone, including decision-makers in Thailand, need to consider. It apparently claims, for example, that 93% of all initial contract proposals were accepted at the first meeting of the six major construction companies (back in August 2009). Moreover, while construction companies apparently claim that they are losing money on the Four Rivers project, the KBS documentary instead apparently claims massive discrepancies between monies actually spent by these companies and the amounts listed in invoices.
The KBS documentary does not appear to only allege poor financial practice by the construction companies either. One government body responsible for the project allegedly had to borrow massively to help fund construction – and now needs to pay back a daily interest of 11 Billion Won (10 million USD). To help affray these costs, the KBS documentary alleges that the same government body, apparently largely responsible for the nation’s drinking water, has been pushing for new town construction in areas close to Four River project sites, in order to recoup money through real estate deals. Learning this, it is unclear (to me at least) whether any such real estate development might end up actually contributing to the worsening of water quality in these rivers – which in many areas are depended upon by major population centres for drinking.
It will be interesting to learn if any of the damning (or should that be damming?) evidence turned up by the KBS documentary team is disproved.
Nonetheless, as the biodiversity crisis and human-caused climate change both gather pace, and as many developed nations try to come to terms with ballooning national debt and ageing human populations, it should no longer be necessary to caution that development projects need to be modified appropriately in response to environmental, social and economic costs. Otherwise, it is all too easy to predict that mega-projects, such as Saemangeum and the Four Rivers project, will continue to cause declines in biodiversity, lead to loss of livelihoods and well-being over the long-term, and even drag national economies down…