North Korea’s Landscape in State of Shock
by Keith Bowers
Ok, let’s put aside political differences and human rights issues (we will surely return to these) and focus on the landscape of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). During the Korean War, much of the northern peninsula of Korea was ravaged, including its forest and watersheds. Since the 1950s, a good portion of the forests on the hillsides and mountains returned to forest, while the valleys supported intensive agriculture. In the 1990s, food shortages and famine struck the population of DPRK. The fall of communism in Russia and China’s quest to embrace capitalism led to a downward economic spiral for the nation, and resulted in increasing food shortages. Then in the mid 1990s, devastating storms and floods ravaged much of the country, wiping out arable land, harvests and infrastructure. Widespread malnutrition and fuel shortages forced people to turn to the forests for basic needs.
That was 15 years ago, and the landscape is still in a state of shock. Much of the country is deforested, save for very few steep slopes and some protected areas. Riparian buffers are all but nonexistent for much of the countryside. Erosion, sedimentation and loss of habitat are pervasive, which has rendered many watersheds ecologically lifeless (we noted how few bird species we heard or saw; it was eerily quiet). So where to begin?