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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

Name of conflict:Four Major Rivers Restoration Project, South Korea
Country:Republic of Korea
State or province:South Korea
Location of conflict:Very wide area covering Koreas 4 main river systems
Accuracy of locationLOW (Country 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 commodities:Water

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Four 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:$19,300,000,000.00 for 4 rivers - additional funding for tributaries
Type of populationSemi-urban
Start of the conflict:01/01/2009
End of the conflict:10/10/2011
Relevant government actors:President Myung-bak Lee, Government of Korea, Ministry of the Environment, Ministry of Land, transport and Maritime Affairs
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Korean 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,

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Local ejos
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
Forms of mobilization:Involvement 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-economical 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 an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:Fundamentally a failure. Activism did not effectively alter governmental plans in this huge infrastructre Project with major environmental impacts

Sources & Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Science, "Restoration or Devastation?" by Dennis Normile

LinksĀ to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

Paper presented at UN International Water Conference, Zaragoza. Pro government

Nature August 2012

International 2010

Asia Times

Environment 360, School of Forestry and Environmental Science, Yale University

Meta information

Contributor:Louis Lemkow
Last update30/06/2014



Activists protest the 4-Rivers Project at the South Han River

Credits: Park Jong-hak/KFEM