South Korea's Four Rivers Project is a Train-Wreck

In South Korea, the highly controversial Four Major River Project has proven to be a train-wreck. Despite strong public opposition, the current President Lee Myung-bak, has been pushing this project since the start of his administration.

The Korean Board of Audit and Inspection released a shocking report [ko] on Jan 17, 2013 claiming that the government's nation-wide construction project has proven to be a total mess. The current administration has been touting it as a Korean version of the New Deal policy, an American economic growth strategy from the 1930s. They even pushed bills through the National Assembly despite growing environmental concerns. The government has asserted that it will create new jobs and improve water quality. 

Image of River in Gyeongsang Province

Image of river in Gyeongsang Province in South Korea, taken on August 10, 2012 by Flickr User 습지와새들의친구(Wetlands & Birds Korea) (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Image of River in Daegu, South Korea

Image of Upstream River in Daegu city, South Korea, taken on August 10, 2012 by Flickr User 습지와새들의친구 (Wetlands & Birds Korea) (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)


However, mass algae-outbreaks have been reported in several rivers in 2012, which many believe somehow correlate to the construction.

An unprecedented 22 trillion Korean Won (about 20 Billion USD) has been spent and more is expected to be spent for maintenance work since 15 out of 16 water reservoirs have proven to be defective. As warned by environmental groups, it has had a detrimental effect on the environment; the COD index (Chemical Oxygen Demand) has increased by 9 percent and the algae level rose 1.9 percent.

Sadly once the damage has been done, it cannott be undone. Influential net user @kennedian3 lashed out at the report in his series of tweets, blaming the concerned government departments and the president for inflicting irrevocable damage [ko]: 


4대강사업 단군 이래 최악의 국책사업이었다. 그 국토부 관료들과 정치인들, 학자 등 각 분야 추진 세력과 이명박대통령에게는 반드시 법적 책임을 물어야 한다. 그들은 이 땅 백성들과 강토에 씼을 수 없는 죄를 저지른 자들이다.

The Four Major Rivers Project is the worst government project ever done since the beginning of our nation's history. The Ministry of Land government officials, politicians and scholars who pushed the project and President Lee Myung-bak should be held legally accountable. These people have committed an irrevocable crime to our homeland and against our people.

Four Rivers Construction Site

Image of the Four Rivers Construction Site, in Gyeongsang Province, South Korea, Uploaded by Flickr User 습지와새들의친구(Wetlands & Birds Korea) (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

He also assailed the audit board [ko] for not releasing the report till now, just a month before the new president will be sworn in. It has been reported that the audit board had already finished their second round of auditing [ko] last September.

감사원, 4대강사업이 총체적 부실이었다고..참 일찍도 밝혀냈다. 말도 안 되는 시대착오적 사업에 막대한 혈세를 쏟아붓고도, 우리는 이를 추진한 세력을 심판할 기회를 잃었다[…]

The Audit Board has disclosed that the Four Rivers Projects is a total mess. (Sarcastically) How promptly they have came up with that result? Thanks to their belated reports, we have lost the momentum to punish those people who hemorrhaged tremendous amounts of taxpayers’ money in this anachronistic project.

The opposition party and environmental groups now strongly demand [ko] the current administration and ruling party to take responsibility for this catastrophe. @wspark from the opposition wrote [ko]:

감사원의 감사결과는 4대강 사업이 총체적 사기극이었음을 입증한다. 국회청문회와 국정조사가 불가피하며, 정치적, 사법적 책임 또한 면할수 없다[…] 해외나가 녹색성장 운운하고 다녔던 것 생각하니 피가 거꾸로 솟는다.

The Audit board's report has proven that the Four Rivers Project has been a total scam. The National Assembly hearing and probe are inevitable and they (concerned people) cannot escape from political and legal liabilities[…] I feel my blood boiling when I think of President Lee who has been touting himself for leading so-called ‘green-development’ when visiting foreign countries.

Image of Four River Project Construction Site

Image of Four River Project Construction Site in Gumi City, South Korea, Uploaded by Flickr User 습지와새들의친구 (Wetlands & Birds Korea) (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The major conservative newspapers have also been blamed for being Lee's poster boy during his term. @mattayoon explained [ko]:

4대강사업을 반대하는 사람들을 공격하는 기사는 물론이고, 정부 홍보성 여론조사 기사를 그대로 진실인양 올렸던 조선일보가 왜 이제야 4대강사업을 반대하고 비난하고 나설까요? 대통령이 바뀌기 때문입니다.

The Chosun Newspaper used to slander the project's oppositions and merely delivered the government's press release in their papers as if it were true. Why have they suddenly changed their tone and started assailing the four river project? It is because we will have new president.

@kyung0 lamented [ko] the sad reality that despite the mess, no one from the power house will ever be fully held accountable. President Lee will be awarded the Grand Order of Mugunghwa, the highest decoration awarded by the Korean government when he retires:

4대강사업 총체적 부실이란 감사원 발표.그럼에도 이명박은 대훈장 받을것이다.사업 잘했다고 상훈 받았던 공무원들도 그대로 영달할것이다.4대강 자전거길부터 보 준공식까지 생중계 난리쳤던 KBS 고위직 누구도 책임지지 않을것이다.

Despite the Audit board's dismal report on the Four Rivers project, Lee will still be awarded the top government honor. And those government officials who were awarded for driving the project, will continue to live with their (amassed) fortune. No one among the KBS TV network executives who directed live-broadcasts of the opening ceremonies of bicycle lanes alongside the river and the reservoirs will take responsibility either.

The president-elect Park Geun-hye seems to distance herself [ko] from this failed project, but one Twitterer warns [ko] that Park, who is from the same conservative ruling party, cannot be totally free from the liability and added it could be a scarlet letter haunting Park in the future.


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