Four Major Rivers Restoration Project, South Korea


The 4 Rivers Project is a massive government river diversion and restoration project covering South Korea's four main river systems (including 14 tributaries which has received additional funding) and was the most emblematic of President Myung-bak Lee's infratructure projects. It replaced President's initial project of the "Korean Grand Canal". Its stated aims were to provide better water security in the face of expected scarcity and also for flood prevention (both droughts and heavy rain/flooding are common problems in S. Korea). It was also intended to extend leisure activities in and around the restored river systems. Extensive dredging and construction of weirs and dams took place. It met with criticism from scientific circles and environmental movements. Impact Assessment for this huge project was completed in only 5 months instead of the minimum 1 year according to expert opinion. Resistance and protests against this macro project involved lawsuits and local demonstrations where work on rivers was taking place. The protests brought together a wide range of citizens groups, academics, religious leaders, environmental activists.

Basic Data
NameFour Major Rivers Restoration Project, South Korea
CountryRepublic of Korea
ProvinceSouth Korea
SiteVery wide area covering Koreas 4 main river systems
Accuracy of LocationLOW country/state level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Water Management
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Dams and water distribution conflicts
Wetlands and coastal zone management
Specific CommoditiesWater
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsFour Major Rivers Restoration Project calls for building 16 dams, dredging 570 million cubic meters of sand and gravel to deepen nearly 700 kilometers of riverbed, renovating two estuarine barrages, and constructing bike trails, athletic fields, and parks along the waterways
Level of Investment (in USD)$19,300,000,000.00 for 4 rivers - additional funding for tributaries
Type of PopulationSemi-urban
Start Date01/01/2009
End Date10/10/2011
Relevant government actorsPresident Myung-bak Lee, Government of Korea, Ministry of the Environment, Ministry of Land, transport and Maritime Affairs
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersKorean Federation of Environmental Movements (KFEM), Peoples' Committee to Stop Killing of Rivers, Professors' Organization for Movement against Grand Korean Canal (2500 academics) and SAVE International, an environmental group which began at the University of California, Berkeley,
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingLocal ejos
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
Forms of MobilizationInvolvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Public campaigns
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems
Socio-economic ImpactsPotential: Loss of landscape/sense of place, Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures
Project StatusIn operation
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.Fundamentally a failure. Activism did not effectively alter governmental plans in this huge infrastructre Project with major environmental impacts
Sources and Materials

Science, "Restoration or Devastation?" by Dennis Normile
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Asia Times
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Paper presented at UN International Water Conference, Zaragoza. Pro government
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Nature August 2012
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International 2010
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Environment 360, School of Forestry and Environmental Science, Yale University
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The UOS (University of Seoul) Times
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The UOS (University of Seoul) Times
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The UOS (University of Seoul) Times
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The UOS (University of Seoul) Times
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Other Documents

Activists protest the 4-Rivers Project at the South Han River Credits: Park Jong-hak/KFEM
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Meta Information
ContributorLouis Lemkow
Last update30/06/2014