Updated January. 19, 2013 02:03
Shim Myung-pil, the outgoing head of the Office of National River Restoration under the Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs Ministry, told The Dong-A Ilbo late last year that he would give 95 points out of 100 to the Lee Myung-bak administrations signature project of restoring the countrys four major rivers. After leading the project that cost 20 billion U.S. dollars for three years and eight months, Shim boasted that through the dredging work, the rivers had water flowing year round and grew more capable of better enduring floods and droughts.
Yet looking at the results of the audit on the project announced Thursday by the Board of Audit and Inspection, taking Shims claims at face value is tough. According to the internal state auditor, 16 dams that were the key parts of the restoration project had problems in durability and safety. The report also claimed that unreasonable management caused fears over deterioration of water quality. Due to large-scale dredging work, the maintenance costs for the rivers are expected to reach 288 billion won (272.5 million dollars) a year, according to the audit. The findings suggest that the government rushed to complete the project before President Lee left office, causing breaches in quality control and exposing sign of shoddy construction.
The river restoration office denied the audit results, calling the probe poorly conducted and reflecting claims by environmental groups. Though Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs Minister Kwon Do-youp on Friday denied problems in safety or functions, this cannot clearly remove public fears over the project. The audit results should be neither exaggerated nor understated. The government should consider them seriously enough to conduct a detailed review of issues raised in the construction and maintenance processes, and then take thorough action to resolve the problems.
The four-river project is the largest flood control work in the country`s history aimed at preventing devastating floods and droughts that could come due to climate change. The dams are meant to serve as giant bowls to contain 620 million tons of water nationwide. Due to its geographical characteristics, the Korean Peninsula suffers from flooding in a rainy summer and droughts in a dry spring. Since water is an essential resource, securing large reservoirs and restoring rivers are necessary for the nation`s future. Thanks to the project, Korea suffered far less flood damage last summer despite more frequent typhoons and heavy rains than in previous years. While the government must correct the wrongs of the project, arguments that the entire restoration work should be nullified are unconvincing. To demand the dismantlement of the 16 dams on the rivers because of antipathy toward the project would be simply ridiculous.
President-elect Park Geun-hye said in a TV debate over the campaign period last month that she was aware of the issues in the four-river project, pledging to form a committee to take action. In addition to complementary measures, follow-up projects are necessary to put the restoration work on the right track. To fundamentally improve the water quality of the four rivers and avoid such side effects as erosion and resedimentation, work to improve the water quality of tributaries must be sped up.