S Korea sets aside 245m for drought response

S Korea sets aside 245m for drought response

The government and the ruling Saenuri Party on Wednesday agreed to inject 203.7 billion won (S$250 million) into the budget in the first half of next year to tackle the effects of the aggravating drought facing the country.

The budget will be used mostly to build waterways to send water from weirs at the nation's four major rivers to drought-stricken areas, they said.

"The measure is to make use of the four rivers to bring the water closer to the affected areas," said Rep. Na Seong-lin of the Saenuri Party, after the government-ruling party consultation meeting.

More than 700 million tons of water are stored in the 16 newly built dams along the four rivers ― the Hangang, Nakdonggang, Geumgang and Yeongsangang. The water is not being utilized because the dams are located far from the affected areas, officials said.

The measures were devised as the country has been experiencing the worst drought in more than a century.

Officials fear that the problem, if left unsolved, would severely affect agricultural production and quickly raise food and other consumer prices. The national weather agency forecasts that the current drought is likely to last until next April.

Officials stressed that the plan was devised to utilize water from the four rivers and is not aimed at refurbishing them ― a controversial project undertaken by the previous administration.

"This proposal is not related to the four-river project and we need to devise logical and objective ideas to overcome the drought," said Kim Jung-hoon, policy committee chairman of the ruling party.

The Four Major Rivers Restoration Project was a mega state plan pushed by the former Lee Myung-bak administration. The project has remained stalled amid concerns over causing massive environmental damage.

An internal probe conducted right before President Park Geun-hye took office in early 2013 said the project was seriously flawed and had caused environmental damage such as lowering the water quality in the rivers.

The state project was halted as the ruling party overturned its earlier position and urged the government to reassess it, which invited fresh criticism from Lee's loyalists that the party was trying to protect the then-incoming leader Park from inheriting the financial and political burden.

The drought measure is also expected to face resistance from the main opposition party.

The New Politics Alliance for Democracy has been opposing the idea, calling it a waste of taxpayers' money. Some experts also raised concerns that the plan lacks feasibility, saying the distance from the weirs to drought-stricken areas is too far.

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