Tuesday, October 11, 2011

South Korean City Rivers Reviving

People live with their past memories. During the summer I often go back to happy childhood memories of playing with friends at a stream, catching diving beetles and minnows.

In those poor and difficult days, we struggled to survive not caring about nature. With the rapid development over the past 30 to 40 years, many of those streams where we played have disappeared and the few that remain cannot be found with traces of such memories.

One of the typical examples of a polluted stream was Cheonggye Stream, which was an abandoned sewage system in Seoul until it was restored in 2005. Now it has become a haven of natural beauty with a diverse ecosystem attracting 9.3 million tourists annually.

Experts on river restoration all over the world, like professor Yukihiro Shimatani of Kyusu University, eye the successful restoration of the Daejon and Cheonggye Streams with amazement. In addition, such restoration projects have been highly appraised as successful in becoming recreational areas for residents. Last August, Daejeon and Nosong Streams of Daejeon and Jeonju respectively have been restored and now provide recreational spaces for residents.

In this way, restoration projects are not only for changing the polluted streams and rivers but bringing emotional stabilization to many who live in the crowded cities. Also, by improving water quality, restoring ecosystems and reducing the temperature of the city center, it in return increases adaptability to climate change. In other words, it becomes a beautiful space where surrounding markets can arise and an ecologically-friendly culture is created that changes an inactive city.

We have a big target. It is a plan to change 55 percent of ecologically damaged rivers and streams of Korea to a place where man and nature can coexist and past memories can revive.

The Ministry of Environment is currently promoting various policies to make this happen. In September 2006, “The Basic Act on Water Management for 2006-2015” was established, which aims for the restoration of rivers where our children can swim with along with fish.

The polluted rivers are being restored under “The 10 Year Plan on River Restoration.” In addition, “The Law for the Preservation of Water” was reformed to “The Water Quality and Ecosystem Conservation Act” to boost the restoration of an aquatic ecosystem. Last September, “The Long-Term Action Plan for the Restoration of Ecology Streams” was established so river restoration projects could be managed in a medium- to long-term, systematic manner.

Such government efforts are never complete without concrete participation and keen observation from residents, civil groups and experts throughout the whole process of restoration from surveys, target setting, and implementation to continuous monitoring.

The Ministry of Environment is ceaselessly putting all its efforts into making childhood memories of the past become a reality for Korea. With full participation of civil groups and regional communities, the city rivers that are hidden behind concrete riversides, parking lots, and artificial structures will be revived to be ecological rivers and streams where crawfish and minnows will mingle in harmony with children playing in the water.

There is no doubt that much interest and participation across the nation will speed up the restoration in order to bring vital natural environments to cities.

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