In any given task, setting your priorities right always comes with great rewards. In Daegu, many of its citizens have long enjoyed the perks of having clean waterways, and that is the result of giving priority to rehabilitate dying rivers and revive the city into a sustainable green hub.
But back in the early eighties, the scenario was contrary to what it is now. The rapid economic development and population explosion brought Daegu’s most important waterways – the rivers of Geumho, Sincheon ,and Nakdong – to utter degradation. With high BOD (or biological oxygen demand that measures the degree of water pollution) levels, the rivers were on the brink of dying. In 1984, the downstream portion of the Geumho River was considered dead, with a BOD level that rose up to 111 mg/dL – a condition no longer viable to sustain aquatic life.
|The Sincheon river flowing through the heart of the city.|
The next ten years saw the city’s aggressive efforts to restore the rivers’ degraded ecosystem. A total of 1.2 trillion KRW was released from the city’s coffers, from 1983 to 2000, for rehabilitation projects and construction of sewage treatment plants to prevent wastewaters from entering the waterways. One of these is the Sincheon Sewage Treatment plant, which has become the country’s best facility, setting the benchmark for efficiency.
In 1999, fifteen years after being declared dead, the Geumho River began springing back to life, with the BOD level dropping to 5.1 mg/dL. Common carps and Prussian carps started to find their way back to their habitats. Surprisingly, there have been reports about sightings of otters – an endangered species that thrives on freshwater environments, along Sincheon River. The city’s massive rehabilitation efforts have paid off, having brought back a vulnerable water species back to its home ground.
|A heron's hearty lunch.|
It was a feat unparalleled. In Britain, it took 141 years of rehabilitation for the salmon to return to Thames River. In Germany and Japan, it took 23 years to improve water quality of the Rhine and Dama Rivers, respectively.
Making a resolve against environmental degradation is one “politically inconvenient” problem. But Daegu chose to face the challenge, and the world noticed that. In 2006, the Asia-Pacific Forum for Environment and Development recognized Daegu’s painstaking efforts to improve water quality. In April this year, the city was a proud host to the 7th World Water Forum, attended by 30,000 participants from 170 countries.
Daegu has now become an engine of growth and innovation, and that sprang from setting priorities right, and from giving premium to what really matters to become a sustainable city of the future.