11 Jul 2014

Four Rivers, two losses

Triple-grande yuck!
I taught a fourth-year class at Simon Fraser University where I allowed students to pick a "natural resource" topic that they would study, present and write on. I learned a lot from my students (who enjoyed the experience [pdf]) and asked each to write a blog post on an interesting dimension of the area they studied.

Here's an edited post from JC:

"The Green Latte phenomenon" sarcastically describes the spread of green tides over South Korea's four major rivers. The tide comes with foul smells, dead fish, and risk to potable water supplies.

Myeng-Back Lee (South Korea's 17th president -- nicknamed "the bulldozer" as CEO of Hyundai Construction), pledged to build the Four Rivers Project (FRP) during his election campaign, but the project's realization has dragged the country towards economic and environmental disaster.

The FRP promised to improve water quality, redistribute water, and boost economic growth. The cost of the project was roughly US$18 billion (roughly 2 percent of South Korea's GDP), which was funded by higher taxes and lower payments for the poor. The FRP was one of the most expensive infrastructure project in Korea's history.

The FRP was completed despite opposition, but it failed from an economic and environmental perspective, lowering water quality, increasing flood risk and damaging the environment (wetlands shrank by 41 percent; dissolved oxygen dropped in rivers).

That waste of money is a sunk cost but now the project requires $1 billion per year of "never-ending" maintenance costs. Those costs may rise due to the poor quality of construction and below-par performance.

The FRP has revealed corruption in the government, which lied, ignored public opinion, colluded with construction companies, and directed bribes to politicians and CEOs.

Now the government proposes to pay for the project by increasing water taxes and selling off drinking water systems!
  • It is time to forget about sunk costs and move on.
  • It is time to look at the environmental destruction caused by greed.
  • It is time to remove the crumbling dams and let rivers flow.
  • It is time for our society to be transparent for the good of the community and hopes of the next generation.
Bottom line: The FRP wasted money and damaged nature. The project should be torn out so future Koreans can enjoy a healthy environment. A memorial made of broken dam pieces can remind them of the dangers of corruption.

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