The main reasons for the deforestation in North Korea are timber production and firewood consumption. “Most cooking and heating in rural areas is fueled by wood and biomass and because of supply constraints, household coal use has declined since 1990.”
North Korea (officially called the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, DPRK) has experienced deforestation for decades through a cycle of severe food shortages and natural disasters such as large-scale flooding, drought, and land-slides (Kim, Chung, and Park 2009). As the State of the Environment in North Korea indicates, the forest resource degradation is of prime importance (Kirby 2004).Critical Statistics:
- Forest is a principal resource in North Korea constituting about 73 percent of the total area of which 70 percent is on slopes greater than 20 degreees (UNEP 2003, 12).
- In total, between 1990 and 2005, North Korea lost 24.6 percent of its forest cover, or around 2 million hectares, which is the highest one among countries in East Asia. Between 1990 and 2000, it lost 138 thousand square km of forest or an average change rate of -1.8 percent per year. Between 2000 and 2005, it lost 127 thousand square km of forest or an average change rate of -1.9 percent per year (FAO 2009, 110). continuing. This trend continues today. (Kim, Chung, and Park 2009).
- The forest resources in North Korea are diverse in vegetation species composition. There are “about 8,785 vegetation species, including 3,943 of higher plant species, 209 of endemic plant species, and 604 of cultivated species” (UNEP 2003, 12).
- Mammal populations in North Jorea are an important part of Eastern Asia fauna as well as for the continental Eurasia. Among these animals, 87.5 percent of the artiodactyls, 76.4 percent of the carnivore, and 77.7percent of the insectivore species are represented in North Korea (UNEP 2003, 12).
- The main reasons for the deforestation in North Korea are timber production and firewood consumption (UNEP 2003, 17). Self-sufficiency in food production is a national policy which directly aggravates the problem (Kirby 2004). It’s reported that “most cooking and heating in rural areas is fueled by wood and biomass and because of supply constraints, household coal use has declined since 1990” (Hippel 2007).
- Drought, heavy rain and vermin continually caused large amount of forest degradation and gradually induced deforestation. The shortage in the coal supplies for energy usage in residential and agricultural, due to economic crisis, brought about over-consumption (UNEP 2003, 17).
- Many other aspects, such as wildfires, natural disaster in term of insect attacks and drought, and conversion of forest to farmland, together caused deforestation in North Korea (Kirby 2004). Full post
With widespread deforestation, North Korea faces environmental crisis
North Korea holds a Tree Planting Day every March. The question is whether it helps regreen a largely denuded nation whose people face food shortages, deadly natural disasters and bitterly cold winters.
The public holiday began in 1946 when North Korea was under direct Soviet rule. Today, the state-sanctioned media still pays tribute to its claims of leafy success, sometimes with the participation of the “respected Supreme Leader.”
Even as new trees take root, subsistence logging and deforestation have an untold impact on the country’s soil quality and its ability to feed its people.
“People cut down trees on a massive scale, both for fuel but also to clear room for farming,” said Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein, a Ph.D. candidate from the University of Pennsylvania who studies social control and surveillance in the North from Seoul, South Korea.
“You can see it when you’re standing by the border with North Korea, whether it’s in South Korea or in China,” he continued. “The side you’re on is just very lush. There are a lot of trees. But on the North Korean side, the hills are almost entirely bare.”
North Korea’s tree problem is one aspect of a bigger environmental crisis. The hermit state, known for its strident threats of nuclear war, is suffering from crippling drought and violent floods. Some experts suggest that those conditions, exacerbated by climate change, are pushing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to the negotiating table to press President Trump for relief from economic sanctions (Climatewire, April 11).
The government of North Korea acknowledges that forest cover shrank sharply during a famine in the 1990s, going from 8.3 million hectares to 7.6 million hectares in just a few years. And a 2014 study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and Gyeonggi Research Institute drew on satellite data collected by South Korea’s Environment Ministry to show that forests in the North are becoming more fragmented, with less contiguous tree cover.
That’s bad for North Korea’s wildlife, and it leads to depleted topsoil that’s unable to do the work of feeding North Korea’s population.
The lack of ground cover means there are no roots to anchor soil in place and keep it from running off into rivers and streams during extreme weather events. And while North Korea has the task of growing its food rather than trading for it, its geography makes that complicated. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations says that just 17% of its territory is suitable for agriculture.
“The country is mountainous with steep hill slopes, which in many places are deforested,” Bir Mandal, the FAO deputy representative in North Korea, wrote in an email to E&E News. “So, when a natural disaster occurs, it has the potential to cause much greater [disproportional] damage.”