Three provincial governors who had opposed the four-river restoration project have begun to accept it, meaning the long-standing conflict over the venture seems to be ending. The government, however, needs to accept opposition to an extent that it can actively help upgrade the land. Governance in the new era should seek to improve policies through two-way communication with opponents as well as residents.
The government should make clear that the project is meant to revive rivers and also life. Former Democratic Party Chairman Chung Sye-kyun said last month in a meeting with civic groups that oppose the project, We need to change the four-river project, which is suspected as being the grand canal project (pushed for by President Lee Myung-bak), into a water treatment project. So certain people still believe that the project is a precursor to President Lees original grand canal proposal.
The ruling Grand National Party has been complacent over the project. The party`s secretary-general Won Hee-ryong visited the construction site of the Namhan River in Gyeonggi Province after the July 28 by-elections. He said, Not a single ruling party lawmaker met with the Korea Federation for Environmental Movement to talk in person. However strongly the government believes in its policy, it must overcome the peoples apparent reluctance over one-way communication. In the interest of doing everything it can to ensure the projects success, the government should have worked harder to open the hearts and minds of the people, including opponents, and visited the site to meet them. It is doubtful that the 100-member government committee for the project tried to persuade the media and opponents.
Despite the strong backlash, the government must listen to its opponents and reach a compromise. It should explain hundreds of times that the project seeks to prevent floods, improve water quality, and secure enough water resources to consequently restore life and the ecosystem. Park In-joo, senior presidential secretary for social integration, said last month, Since society is diversified, I will listen to the voices of opponents as well as a certain group of people. Hopefully, Park can start social integration with the four-river project.
The public should know that the project is also part of a green growth strategy, a new paradigm of economic development. The fundamental problem of the four-river restoration project is that the direction of government policy is misguided, said South Gyeongsang Province Gov. Kim Doo-kwan, who is against the project, The budget for the project must be used instead to build infrastructure for new growth engines such as information technology or biotechnology. Sadly, however, Kims perception that the water management industry is about dredging and building weirs is outdated by 30 to 40 years.
Amid global warming, the suggestion of certain religious and environmental groups to never touch nature is anachronistic. Managing or preserving water resources is part of green technology and is as important as IT or biotechnology. The four-river project can raise the countrys level of water management technology, including checking water quality and ecology, managing river facilities, using IT and biotechnology for monitoring disasters, and promoting energy technology. If nature loses its recovery function due to global warming, humans must intervene to help it function properly. This is the core of green growth.
Growth momentum was lost over the past decade and the jobless growth phenomenon is prevalent. So the four-river project could present a good opportunity for green growth. Third Generation Environmentalism, a British civic group, ranked Korea fourth in the world in green growth capacity. Since Korea has huge potential in this field, it can acquire experience, technology and human resources in water management through the project.
If bureaucratic expediency, fight over industry interests, bribery or corruption occur over the course of the project, people will never accept it. Inflating building costs or shoddy construction should not happen. Those who lead the project must also not forget that future generations will evaluate this generation`s flood and water contamination prevention and preservation of the environment and ecosystem even if completion of construction is postponed. It is time to stop this time-consuming fight and complete the project so that future generations can thank this generation for pulling off a successful four-river project.