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First Report on the State of the Environment in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea launched at UNEP headquarters

The first assessment of the state of the environment of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) was launched today by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and DPRK officials at UNEP headquarters in Nairobi.

Nairobi, 27 August 2004 – The first assessment of the state of the environment of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) was launched today by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and DPRK officials at UNEP headquarters in Nairobi.

The State of the Environment report was produced in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and was initiated following a visit by Executive Director Klaus Toepfer to DPR Korean capital Pyongyang in 2000.

DPR Korea officials from 20 different government and academic agencies produced the report with training and guidance from UNEP’s assessment office in Bangkok and the UNDP office in Pyongyang.

The report uses a “pressure-state-response” methodology and identifies priority issues related to forests, water, air, land and biodiversity. It also acknowledges a paucity of research and data on which to base reliable environmental assessments. The report, which was completed in late 2003, was released on the occasion of the visit of a high level DPRK delegation to Nairobi.

“By bringing together the available environmental information and identifying priority issues, the report will help strengthen monitoring and assessment, policy setting, action planning and resourcing in DPR Korea,” Mr. Toepfer said. 

The assessment notes that while three quarters of the country is forested, almost all is on steep slopes over 20 degrees. While forested area expanded from the 1950s with national planting campaigns, over the past decade forests have declined in extent and quality due to timber production, a doubling of firewood consumption, and wild fires and insect attacks associated with drought. A growing population – now estimated at 24.4 million people, 60 percent of who live in urban areas - and conversion of hilly land to agricultural production have also taken a toll on forests. In response the government has successfully encouraged community, youth and children’s groups to establish tree nurseries and to participate in campaigns such as the National Tree Planting Day each March 2.

While relatively rich in water resources, DPR Korea faces challenges in maintaining water supply and quality. Eighty percent of total surface water is currently utilized for hydropower generation. In recent years, pollution of rivers and streams has become severe, particularly the Taedong River, which flows through central Pyongyang. The report says a dozen factories and plants have been recorded discharging 30,000 cubic metres of wastewater into the river every day. Construction of the West Sea Barrage and low flows due to drought have also weakened natural purification of the river, leading to seasonal red and blue tides in the Taedong’s lower reaches. The lower Amnok River, on the boundary of DPR Korea and China, is also severely affected by industrial effluent and domestic sewage.

The report notes that urgent investment is needed in domestic sewage and industrial treatment, and in water storage, purification and supply systems. The government is currently strengthening legal control on effluent from factories by applying the “polluter pays principle” and has initiated mass media campaigns to inform the public of the need for water conservation.

DPRK’s reliance on coal for power generation, industrial processes and domestic heating has created serious urban air pollution problems, though comprehensive monitoring or studies on its effects on human health have not been carried out.  A projected five-fold increase in coal use by 2020 underlies the urgent need for clean coal combustion and exhaust gas purification technologies, energy efficiency, and renewable energy alternatives.

Self-sufficiency in food production has been a national policy aim, however major crop yields fell by almost two thirds during the 1990s due to land degradation caused by loss of forest, droughts, floods and tidal waves, acidification due to over use of chemicals, as well as shortages of fertilizer, farm machinery and oil. Vulnerable soils require an expansion of restorative policies and practices such as flood protection works, tree planting, terracing and use of organic fertilizers.

Recognizing such issues, DPR Korea adjusted its legal and administrative framework, designating environmental protection as a priority over all productive practices and identifying it as a prerequisite for sustainable development. It has adopted national laws on forests, fisheries, water resources and marine pollution. The country - home to several critically endangered species, including the Amur leopard, Asiatic black bear and Siberian tiger - has also signed up to international environmental agreements such as the Convention on Biological Diversity. 

The report concludes that to align socio-economic progress with sustainable development, environmental laws and regulations need to be formulated or upgraded, environmental management mechanisms need to be improved and intensified, financial investment must be encouraged, science and technological research needs to be focused on the identified priorities, and environmental monitoring and statistical systems need to be set up and their data used as a basis for national planning and policy making.

“The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has shown its willingness to engage with the global community to safeguard its environmental resources and we must respond so it can meet development goals in a sustainable manner,” Mr. Toepfer said.

Mr. Toepfer and the head of DPR Korea’s delegation to Nairobi, Dr. Ri Hung Sik, the Secretary-General of the National Coordinating Committee for Environment, today signed a framework agreement to guide joint activities that will further strengthen capacity for environmental protection.

This includes a project with UNDP to improve quantitative environmental assessment and monitoring, utilizing information technology and integrating 10 national institutions with environmental responsibilities.

The assessment report also contains 16 project proposals - from awareness campaigns to major technology overhauls - to help the donor community respond to the specific environmental issues.

UNEP News Release 2004/ 40


For more information:  The DPRK State of the Environment Report can be downloaded from http://www.unep.org and/or http://www.rrcap.unep.org/

Or contact:  Eric Falt, Spokesperson/Director of UNEP's Division of Communications and Public Information, on Tel: 254 20 623292, Mobile: 254 (0) 733 682656, E-mail: eric.falt@unep.org; or Tim Higham, Regional Information Officer, UNEP, Bangkok, on Tel +66 2 288 2127, Mobile +66 9 1283803, E-mail higham@un.org.

UNEP News Release 2004/ 40

Friday 27 Aug 2004
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