south korea: focus on KFEM - korean federation for environmental movement
an interview with Kim Choony, chief of international affairs
Korean Federation for Environmental Movement (KFEM) is the first environmental NGO in Korea. Our founder, Mr. Choi Yul, read a lot of books about the environment while he was imprisoned in the 1980s for protesting against the South Korean dictatorship. When he was released in 1982, he founded KFEM. Our first campaigns were on the contamination of water, and soil by the petroleum-chemical industry and the resulting skin diseases among the population, anti-nuclear power plants, and anti mega-dam construction.
KFEM has 52 local branches nationwide and 87,000 individual members. I started to work with KFEM in 1995, and today am Chief of International Affairs. I came from the private sector, after deciding that what I wanted from life was not just a job, but to contribute to a movement!
All of the 250 activists working with KFEM have dedicated their lives to building this movement, with the result that KFEM plays a major role in Korean society. My job is to make the links between the national and international movements, which includes working on the Saemangeum reclamation project, and tracking Multilateral Environmental Agreements. Although the national movement in Korea is very strong, we have not done much work at the international level yet. That is one of the reasons why we joined Friends of the Earth International in 2002.
We've had both successes and failures in our movement. One of the most inspiring campaigns I took part in was the transport of nuclear waste from Taiwan to North Korea in 1997 and 1998, which was finally stopped due to our efforts. Failures include the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, where I felt that NGOs did not unite for common action they way they needed to. Instead of raising our stong voices together, many NGOs were focused on "dialoguing" inside the meeting. Too much is at stake for the planet for that kind of strategy.
saemangeum tidal flats
KFEM, in collaboration with local people, is campaigning to stop the destruction of the Saemangeum tidal flats in what is the country's largest reclamation project. The government has decided to reclaim these tidal flats, part of Korea's beautiful coastline and an important wetlands area, in order to create agricultural land and an industrial complex.
This current project encompasses some 41,000 hectares, and will include a 33-kilometer long seawall. When it is finished, in 2011, some 22,000 local fishing people will be deprived of their subsistence activities. Many nearby islands and mountains, even in national reserves, have been destroyed in order to supply soil and stone in order to construct the seawall (now 70 percent finished) and cover the tidal flat.
At least 200,000 shorebirds use Saemangeum as a feeding stop on the East Asian-Australasian flyway every year, including endangered species such as the Black-faced spoonbill (Platalea minor), the Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) and Saunder's gull (Larus saundersi).
Approximately 86 percent of Korean citizens are against this plan, and local people took the government to court in November 2002. KFEM/FoE Korea is calling for the project to be stopped immediately, as well as the restoration of the tidal flats to their original condition.