Wed, May 15, 2002 - Page 8 News List

Support river-protection groups

By Liaw Shyue-cherng 廖學誠

Taiwan's drought is getting more serious. Apart from inconveniencing people in their daily lives, it is leading to the hoarding of water, the non-cultivation of land, work stoppages, unemployment and compensation payouts.

As the drought continues to create these problems, some social organizations are quietly initiating a river protection movement. Yuchih township (魚池鄉) in Nantou County, for example, has set up the Lienhua Chih River Protection Association (蓮華池護溪協會), through which the local community has taken the initiative to protect the Huopeikeng, Wenlong and Shui-sheshuiwei rivers that run through the area. These rivers constitute the upper reaches of the Shuili River and they are also some of Mingtan Reservoir's most important water sources.

Tatung Township in Ilan County has declared that it will protect the Sungluo, Chiuliao and Sichung rivers, all of which run through its area of jurisdiction. These rivers are important tributaries to the upper reaches of the Lanyang River, providing the Lanyang Plain with water for irrigation and household use.

The drought and the river protection movement might appear to be two distinct phenomena, but, as far as the protection of water resources is concerned, they are actually closely related. As Taiwan faces the difficulties brought about by an unprecedented water short-age, the river protection movements are exceptionally valuable.

Even though the river protection movement is largely voluntary, the strong, cohesive power of communities helps to spread popular sympathy for the concept of water conservation, both in theory and in practice. Also, most of the protected rivers are located in forest water catchment areas, where the effects of water resource replenishment are even more obvious. The river protection movement faces serious challenges, however, in terms of human and material resources.

As far as human resources are concerned, although local people are enthusiastic about protecting rivers and ecology, they often remain at a loss when it comes to future development. Without expert advice, communities don't know what the next step should be or how they should go about protecting the rivers. This often becomes a major worry for them.

As for material resources, since the river protection movement was started by non-governmental organizations, it relies mainly on local community assistance and voluntary contributions. Arranging activities and patrols requires a lot of resources and the financial situation becomes tight over time.

In light of all this, I would urge that, first of all, research institutions under government agencies direct the community river protection movement. Many research institutions, such as the Taiwan Endemic Species Research Institute (行政院農業委員會特有生物研究保育中心), the Taiwan Agricultural Research Institute (農業試驗所) and the Taiwan Forestry Re-search Institute (林業試驗所), already have a solid foundation in academic theory. The assistance of their expert teams would be beneficial to the river protection movement. It would also amount to an indirect form of implementation of the government's preservation policies.

Next, administrative agencies should subsidize the community river protection movement. The government often develops subsidy plans to assist communities in their activities. Apart from considering the contents of a plan when approving applications, the agencies in charge could be asked to consider additional benefits -- such as, in the case of the river protection movement, water resource preservation. Even though these subsidies would not be substantial, they would represent recognition of and support for the river protection movement.

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