Launching the Peace and Life Network Protesting Saemangeum Project
The Peace and Life Network Protesting Saemangeum Project was launched last year by environmental groups and four religious groups. This network aims to stop the environmentally destructive Saemangeum project, to save marine life and sustain the environment for future generation. This huge project was started in 1991 during the Noh Tae-woo regime due to booming economic growth in North Chola Province. The Saemangeum mud flats are located between the Mankyung and Donggin Rivers. The flowing water of the rivers provides rich nutrition to many kinds of sea-life. More than 50% of waterfowl and snipe visit the Saemangeum mud flats every spring and autumn. Therefore, these mud flats are a very important place for birds and sea-life and must be protected.
The Saemangeum project is to construct a 33 km. sea-dike using 19,474,000 sqms. of material. This will require 130,000 15-ton trucks to remove rock and soil from three major mountains (Haechang, Shinsi and Viung). In particular, 3,838,447 sqms. of material was taken from Haechang National Park. The fact that 19,474,000 sqms. of stone and soil was used for building 18 kms. of sea-dike tells us that to complete the 33 km. sea-dike an additional 16,228,333 sqms. of material is needed. In addition, the internal construction of the gigantic sea-dike will require uncountable tons of stone. The Saemangeum project is not only destroying the sea-ecology but the mountain-ecology as well.
Saemangeum project is un onerous tax
The budget for the Saemangeum project increased from 8,200 million to 2 billion 2,137 million won. The construction and equipment budget for improving water quality was 8,200 million won and the budget for constructing sanitary facilities was 6,506 million won, according to North Chola province sources. But, the budget for improving water quality was increased to 1 billion 251 million won. Therefore, an immediate stop would be the best decision to prevent wasting more tax money and to save the environment.
In addition, the economic benefits of this project were overestimated in its benefit-cost analysis. The budgets for most national projects are always underestimated at the beginning, but after launching the projects, construction costs escalate and additional funding is needed for completion. The major benefits of these types of projects goes to the construction companies doing the work, not the taxpayers.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, 30,000 ha of farmland disappear every year due to changes in land use. Much of this land goes into urban land use for residential, commercial, or industrial purposes. Therefore, we should place greater priority on the preservation of the current farmland, rather than destroying the natural environment to create more. Persons in charge of the Saemangeum project argue that this project will create 28,300 ha of farmland, but this argument overlooks the damage to the ecology and of regional communities, and the waste of tax money. No Korean wants to spend over four billion won to damage the ecology and environment of our wetlands.
Nationwide action against the project.
Environmental groups and religious groups have strongly protested this huge reclamation project with local people for many years. As I mentioned already, four religious groups- Buddism, Catholic, Protestant, and Won Buddism- joined this opposition movement. Because of our strong opposition, the government postponed its final decision from last year to the end of March and they re-postponed from the end of March to April 15. In order to pressure those at the decision making level, environmental groups and religious groups started hunger strikes and stay-up-all-night campaigns at KFEM from March 19 to March 31, as well as daily protests in downtown Seoul. Many monks, priests, nuns, and environmental activists took part in these various campaigns to raise public awareness. The following is a chronological review of this movement.
*August 18, 2000: The submission of the final survey report on the Saemangeum project was presented by the Co-Investigation team, comprising of non-governmental and governmental experts, to the Prime Minister's office. But, the content of the main report was biased in favor of this project, because it only represented the government's opinion and ignored the opinion of NGOs that were against this project.
*August 29, 2000: Press conference by NGOs urging a correction of the submitted survey report.
*End of August, 2000: Commission on Protection of the Quality and Supply of Fresh Water Resources under the Prime Minister asked the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, the Ministry of Agriculture, and North Chola Provincial government to provide comment and opinions on the final report submitted by the Co-Investigation team.
*October 2000: The Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries submitted the 1st reviewed opinion to the Commission.
*January 2001: The Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries submitted the 2nd reviewed opinion to the Commission.
*February 19, 2001: The Commission announced they were postponing a final decision for one month.
*March 14, 2001 : A prayer meeting by the four religious groups was held at Chogae Temple in downtown Seoul.
*March 19, 2001: Catholic Confederation declared that the government should stop environmentally destructive project forthwith.
*March 19, 2001 : A hunger strike that included big shots from civic groups and the religious groups was begun in downtown Seoul. It lasted until April 1.
*March 21, 2001 : Protest action in front of the "New Millenium Democratic Party," the party of Kim Dae-Jung, building .
*March 21, 2001 : 3,539 citizens submitted a petition on cancellation of an administrative measure to Ministry of Agriculture. This work was done by Public Environmental Law Center, which is affiliated to the KFEM. In Korea, the Minister of Agriculture has a legal right to cancel wetlands reclamation and the development program to agriculture village and fisheries village by Administrative disposition. The peoples' petition was to urge the Minister of Agriculture to use his right to cancel. We will make a lawsuit with administrative litigation.
*March 21, 2001 : The PCSD (Presidential Commission on Sustainable Development) in Korea was established last October. The PCSD submitted a paper to the President to review this project on 21 March. The PCSD said, "Korea Agricultural & Rural Infrastructure Corporation (KARICO) had under-evaluated the value of the area's tidal flats, the PCSD cannot accept the cost-benefits analysis done by Sammangeum survey committee, and suggested the official policy to improve water quality is ambiguous and insufficient to prevent water contamination". And the PCSD suggested to suspend this project.
*March 22, 2001 : Campaign on World Water Day. We designated five enemies. They are Lee Han-dong (Prime Minister), Yu Jong-geun (Self Governor, North Chola Province), Kim Jung-gweon (Representative, New Millenium Democratic Patry), Han Gap-su (Minister of Agriculture) and Mun dong- shin (Chairperson, KARICO)
*March 22, 2001 : "Life and Peace Network Protesting Saemangeum project (comprising of environmental groups and religious groups)" issued a press release to urge the government to accept the PCSD's opinion.
*March 23 , 2001 : Declaration to stop Saemangeum Project by Nationwide Buddhists' Confederation. Government announced it would postpone its final decision from the end of the March to 15 April.
*March 25, 2001 : Downtown bicycle campaign to urge an immediate end to this project.
*March 27, 2001 : Declaration by 340 professors to urge the government to stop the project
*March 28, 2001 : Nationwide campaign to stop the project.
*The middle of April : Final decision by Commission on Protection of the Quality and Supply of Fresh Water Resources, Office of Prime Minister
Nature and the environment do not belong to us, but are a legacy from our ancestors to future generations. If we do not stop this project, it means that we are stealing from future generations. The government should stop this project forthwith even though 19kms. of the 33 kms. has been built. If the government does not stop this project, we will organize more stronger actions internationally as well as nationally.
The writer is the chief of the International Affairs in KFEM
Kim Choon-y email@example.com
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