South Korea started work Tuesday on a massive construction project to overhaul the country’s four major rivers, amid claims it is a waste of taxpayer money and may harm the environment. The project to construct reservoirs on all four rivers, dredge and clean the river bottoms and construct wetlands and eco-parks along the banks will cost about 2.2 trillion won ($1.9 billion) by the time it is completed in 2012.
Officials say the aim is to better cope with flood and drought, enhance water quality and create hundreds of thousands of jobs. Critics, however, say the work will only worsen the water quality of the rivers and destroy underwater ecosystems.
On Tuesday, workers started piling sandbags on the Nakdong and Yeongsan rivers — a first step to build reservoirs — and cleared roads to construction sites, said Lee Dae-sup, an official at a government task force on the project. Similar work is scheduled along the other two rivers — the Han and Geum — later this week, he said.
The main opposition Democratic Party on Tuesday demanded President Lee Myung-bak’s government immediately stop the project. “Today is the starting date for taxpayers money to be wrongly spent,” Democratic Party head Chung Se-kyun told party leaders, according to a news release. “The four rivers project will harm our beautiful land.”
Chung’s party also has called the project a pretext for Lee to carry out an unpopular — and subsequently abandoned — campaign pledge to build a grand canal through the country. Lee’s government has denied that, saying it has no plan to link the rivers by building a canal.