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[Column] DMZ environmental focus

Posted August. 28, 2000 16:52,   


With increasing talk of inter-Korean economic cooperation following the Summit, many people have expressed interest concerning effective use of the demilitarized zone (DMZ).

However, current rounds of talks for inter-Korean cooperation in the DMZ such as the construction of a cross-border railway, the establishment of trading posts, building of meeting facilities and the flood-control dam, have all centered around developmental issues and have neglected the environmental ones.

The DMZ is a region where development is being pursued without adequate study of environmental effects. The DMZ is a uniquely protected area in the world and is extremely sensitive environmentally. Before the discussion of development moves forward,, the establishment of comprehensive protection measures must be in place.

The DMZ stretches from the western Sacheon river to eastern Kam Ho. In the Paju area of the DMZ, there are about 460 varieties of plants, and 229 varieties of animals and insects. It is the home of 11 rare species such as the great spotted woodpecker and 13 natural monuments like the black eagle, the white-tailed eagle, and the white-naped crane. In the upper Namdaecheon area in the central DMZ, the mandarin duck and 10 other rare birds have been sighted. The eastern Hyangnobong area is home to 36 varieties of birds.

The DMZ is worthy of protection internationally, as it contains areas of coexistence by mountain and inland marsh wildlife. It is also a unique area created by the history of 50 years of division. The Paju Sacheon river area, where the inter-Korean railway proposes to cut through, clearly satisfies all the criteria under the International Marsh Protections Accord.

A comprehensive environmental study should be done. Comprehensive measures should be managed over a long term based on the real wildlife situation in the DMZ. Although there have been studies of the life and environment in DMZ by the U.N. and by Seoul National University, there is no comprehensive understanding of the full situation within the DMZ.

The area still contains explosive mines and many areas are off-limits for such studies. It is a shame that the discussion for a joint environmental study in the DMZ has been left out in the inter-Korean Summit and the inter-Korean ministerial talks.

Much of the land in the DMZ is privately owned. The government must establish and "DMZ Trust" to acquire land considered to be of environmental value. In the DMZ, there are five rivers that flow in both states. There needs to be a comprehensive joint protection for these rivers as well. For such a measure, the most important element is the participation of the North. With participation from the North, it would be possible to establish a "DMZ River Environmental Protection Commission."

The DMZ has been drawing interest from the international community in the area of wildlife studies. UNESCO is currently debating to designate the DMZ as a area needing protection as it is the habitat of the cranes. The World Peace Organization is pushing for a peace park. U.N. Environmental Programme(UNEP) and International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources are also much interested in the DMZ.

To meet with such international interest, Korea must consider the international protection guidelines for areas worthy of protection, and through social agreement, it must adopt comprehensive protective measures that can be managed effectively.

It would be advisable to receive the support of the U.N. Department of Planning in order to establish a research team consisting of members from both the South and the North. As part of the inter-Korean environmental cooperation, the people, the businesses, the government and farmers need to come together and discuss what should be done, and formulate a proposal to protect the DMZ.