Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Unforgetable Yonki Dam

By Lee Whiejin

Photo courtesy of Malum Nalu

  The Yonki Dam, located in the Eastern Highlands, has become a household name in Papua New Guinea. The hydroelectric power plant on this dam has supplied electricity to five neighboring provinces. In my imagination the dam itself did seem to be huge and impressive. In fact from afar the seeming enormity of the dam was not even visible, and the dam was ensconced in the surroundings. The dam did not seem to evidence any feel of artificiality.  The construction of such a big dam would usually show a stark contrast with the backdrop nature of mountain hills and river.

   The embankment used as a road was not seen to be elevated, but on an even level with roads on both edges of the dam. I could barely notice its artificial shape and enormous size only when I stood in the middle of the dam and looked down upon the clear water falling down at the edge of water slope. The water did not flow over the steep downward slope, but under the slope due to dry season. It would be marvelous if the floodgate were open and let water run down the slope. The flow of water would have made a big noise. Though it was a man-made installation, it did not smell of any unbalanced, unnatural aspect. The location of the dam became part and parcel of the nature, assimilated into the mountains and Ramu River. I marvelled at the design and construction of the dam. People did talk about the Yonki dam not as much because of power generation, but because it contained natural elements as part of the river and valley.

   Electric power is considered as one of the main pillars in economic growth. Needless to say, without power factories cannot be run, and people might have to live in darkness once the sun sets. Formerly economic development has entailed environmental destruction, the shadow in its wake. But now it is to be long-term, taking into account the possible side effects upon the posterity, and should be economically sustainable and eco-friendly.  Among the various ways of generating power, using wind, tidal wave and sunlight is still under development and costly, though regarded as the power of the future. While the current main mode of power generation is hydroelectric, fuel and nuclear and has its own strength and weakness, hydroelectric power seems to stand out. PNG is blessed with plentiful rainfall throughout the year, adequate natural environment for hydroelectric power. It is anticipated that several other hydropower plants like the Yonki could be built, and benefit spread to every corner of this country.

   The Yonki hydropower plant was built 20 years ago by the Hyundai Construction Co., then the flagship of the Hyundai conglomerate led by the late mythical businessman Chung Juyoung. He had natural talent for business, though of short schooling. Underpinned by his vision and leadership, the company had made a great leap forward, working miracle in the business world. The Yonki dam was part of his great feat.

   Speaking of power supply, most dwellers in and around Port Moresby have heard of the Hanjung Kanudi power plant, whose power generating capacity is 24 MW, meeting about 30 % of electricity demand in NCD. The Kanudi plant, currently operated by Hanjung Heavy industries, is expected to be transferred to the PNG government in 2014.

His Excellency Lee Whiejin, our guest writer this week, is the South Korean Ambassador to Papua New Guinea.