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Large-scale reclamation projects

Reclaimed land emerged as an alternative to the loss of farmland caused by the growth of cities and industry. Land reclamation was seen as achieving several objectives. It met the demand for more urban and industrial land, it created good quality agricultural land as the country sought to achieve self-sufficiency in food production, it contributed to the formation of the coastal industrial parks and port facilities, and it secured water resources for agricultural, industrial and household uses by forming reservoirs of desalinated water.

Under the Public Waters Reclamation Act of 1962, large-scale reclamation projects were supervised by the Ministry of Construction, with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry being responsible for developing farmland on the reclaimed land. Government and private-sector projects created a total of 1,136 districts of reclamation land in the 1960s and 233 districts in the 1970s. But while the number of government reclamation projects fell in the 1970s as more attention was paid to the building of the HCI complexes, private businesses continued to carry out reclamation projects for the creation of farmland. More reclamation projects were pursued in the 1980s. The Saemangeum Reclamation Project, for example, was established toward the end of the Chun Doo-hwan administration with the intention to promote the economic development of North Jeolla Province, a stronghold of the political opposition.

The current focus is on completing previously planned reclamation projects. Since 1945, the total area created by reclamation projects has amounted to 82,250 ha, while another 52,528 ha of land is in the process of being formed.

Table 5- 4. Reclamation projects (1946-2007)

But there was growing controversy over the reclamation projects in the 1990s. Critics said such projects were becoming economically inefficient since there was no need for more farmland due to the surplus in the rice supply. As a result, reclamation projects in Donga District in Gimpo and the Sihwa District in Hwaseong, both in Gyeonggi, were switched from farmland to industrial use. In the case of the Donga Reclamation Site in Gimpo, which was completed in 1991, it took a total of 10 years to decide how to use the reclaimed land, which was finally set aside as a site for a thermal power plant and a part of the Incheon Free Economic Zone. For the Sihwa project, completed in 1994, the authorities abandoned plans for it to become farmland and a freshwater lake because of the deterioration in the water quality after the construction of atide embankment. Instead, it will now be the site of the Sihwa Multi-Techno Valley, with the goal of creating a Green City and a nearby international theme park. A tidal power plant, said to be the world’s largest, is also nearing completion.

The Saemangeum reclamation project in North Jeolla has taken a similar path. The project, which began in 1991, was originally intended to create 40,000 ha of farmland and develop agricultural water resources, after the completion of a 33.4 km-long tidal embankment by 2004. In 2009, it was decided that the plan should be changed in response to many years of controversy that the project was destroying the ecological system of the wetlands and was no longer economically feasible for use as farmland. Under the new plan, the portion of the reclaimed land designated as farmland will be reduced from 70 percent to 30 percent, while that for industrial and tourism use will be expanded drastically. The government hopes to turn the area into a technology and entertainment hub, the“City of Neo Civitas.” But its success as a world-class “luxury brand composite city” will depend on whether it can remain a clean water area. It will be necessary to take measures that will prevent the deterioration of water quality resulting from the reclamation dikes, which earlier caused the environmental problems at Sihwa Lake.

Source : SaKong, Il and Koh, Youngsun, 2010. The Korean Economy Six Decades of Growth and Development. Seoul: Korea Development Institute.

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