03/31/2008, 00.00
SOUTH KOREA
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Church against government-backed canal because of its negative economic and environmental costs

by Theresa Kim Hwa-young
The diocese of Incheon wants the Grand Canal project scrapped. The plan, which is backed by newly elected President Lee, would cut the country in two. For many academics the new waterway would only destroy the economy.

Incheon (AsiaNews) – For the first time since the end of South Korea’s military dictatorship, a diocese has come out against a government plan. Mgr Choi Ki-san, bishop of Incheon, has slammed the Grand Canal Project which entails digging a system of canals that would cut South Korea in two. For him the whole thing should be scrapped.

“We oppose the cross-canal project for it is against God’s creation,” said a statement by the Justice and Peace Committee and the Environmental Pastoral Committee of the diocese of Incheon. “We express our deep concern about the canal project that has not national consensus.”

The canal is key element in the election platform of the in-coming President Lee Myung-bak. Once completed it would include a 540-kilometre water highway joining Seoul to Busan and linking the Han and Nankdong rivers.

Critics believe that the project would threaten drinking water and the country’s ecological balance.

For the new administration it would offer instead a unique opportunity to unburden the country’s highways from carrying cargo and give a boost to the tourist sector.

“Nobody can imagine the ecological destruction and its impact when the flow of water of naturally formed and winding rivers are destroyed and transformed into a canal because in order to make a waterway for vessels it is necessary to rake out the bottom of river as deep as 6 to 9 meters by using dynamite or heavy machinery.” And all this would be for dubious advantages, this according the statement from the diocesan commission.

The views expressed by the bishop of Incheon are shared by the South Korean Church. In fact the bishops’ environmental commission had invited the government to a public debate on the issue but had to cancel it because the government representative pulled out at the last minute.

Many intellectuals are also opposed to the canal. Last week some 2,400 university professors met to protest and have their views heard. It was also the first time such a large number of scholars had gathered to express their ideas on government policies since the 1987 pro-democracy movement.

For Cho Jung-rae, of Myonji University, the project is not economically feasible.

“Who would want to send their goods via a canal for 2-3 days when the railway could deliver them in 10 hours maximum? The barges are not that cheaper either considering delivering goods from far away quays and the tax,”' he said.

Prof Park Chang-geun, of Kwandong University, went further, saying that “the dams will submerge arable farmland, causing nature to lose its function to control floods and droughts,” and this over half the national territory.

By contrast, the government is convinced that the business community will invest in resort areas and hotels along the waterway.

Others counter that no one in his or her right mind would risk millions in areas that would become flood-prone.

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