Deforestation in North Korea

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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:
  1. 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).

  2. 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). continuingThis trend continues today. (Kim, Chung, and Park 2009).

  3. 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).

  4. 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).

  1. 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).

  2. 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).

  3. 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).

  1. Deforestation presents a serious threat to forest ecosystems, especially for several endangered species, such as Amur leopard, the Asiatic black bear, and the Siberian tiger. (Kirby 2004).

  2. Deforestation can lead to drought and flood, each triggering critical food shortages and in turn the conversion of forest land into agriculture land (Kim, Chung, and Park 2009)

  3. As a direct effect of the ‘energy crisis’, the rural population has turned to cutting wood as a source of energy, with deforestation and soil erosion as a foreseeable but unavoidable consequence (Hippel 2007).

What is Next:
  1. Take measures in the energy shortage problem in North Korea would be a solution to deforestation (Lee 2006).Among them, there is need to rebuild coal supplies by public transport systems and implementing energy-efficiency measures around the country (Hippel 2007).

  2. In an attempt to prevent recurrent flooding and stop soil erosion, international assistance has been made toward reforestation initiatives. However, these projects need further economic support (Helgesen 2007).

  3. In order to improve forest resources management, environmental laws as well as related governmental regulations need to be formulated or at least to be upgraded (Kirby 2004).Concretely, these measures include developing “a rational long-term afforestation/reforestation plan" and implementing it "in [an] integrated sustainable manner. Forest Law DPR Korea’ should be strictly adhered to in the management of this process” (UNEP 2003, 28).

  4. In response to the deforestation problem, domestic society groups, including the Forest Conservation Association and youth and children's organizations, should take interest in the recovery of damaged or endangered forest ecosystems (UNEP 2003, 27).

  1. CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) (last accessed 19 October 2009)

  2. Helgesen G. and N. H.Christensen. 2007. North Korea 2007: Assisting Development and Change. Nordic Institute of Asian Studies.

  3. Hippel, D. V. and H. Peter. 2007. Energy Security for North Korea. Science. 316: 1288-1289.

  4. Kirby, A. 2004. North Korea's Environment crisis. (last accessed 19 October 2009).

  5. Kim, D. H., C. Chung, and C. H. Park. 2009. Land Cover Classification of North Korea Utilizing MOD13Q1 Data. In Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers. Las Vegas, 2009.

  6. Lee, S. H. 2006. Forest and other biomass production in the DPRK: Current situation and recent trends as indicated by remote sensing data. DPRK Energy Experts Study Group meeting, Stanford University, 2006. (last accessed 10 October 2009).

  7. UNEP. 2003. DPR KOREA: State of the Environment 2003. North Korea's National Co-coordinating Council for the environment and United Nations Environment Programme.