North Korea Table of Contents

Lack of information makes it difficult to assess the extent to which industrialization and urbanization have damaged North Korea's natural environment. Using generally obsolete technology transferred from the former Soviet Union and China, the country embarked on a program of ambitious industrialization after the Korean War. Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Romania, which had similar industrial policies, had some of the world's worst air, water, and soil pollution in the early 1990s.

The April 1986 passage of an environment protection law by the Supreme People's Assembly, the country's national legislature, suggested that North Korea might also have serious pollution problems. Speaking about the bill, Vice President Yi Chong-ok claimed that "big successes" had been accomplished in this field in the past, and that "visitors to the DPRK can easily confirm that pollution has not reached there the levels experienced in other countries." Although Yi described the law as a preventive rather than a curative measure, a German publication noted that the attendance of representatives from the cities of Namp'o, Hamhng, and Ch'ngjin at preliminary discussions of the bill suggested that these localities might have more serious pollution problems than other North Korean cities.

Air pollution is moderated by the extensive reliance on electricity rather than on fossil fuels, both for industry and the heating of urban residences. Air pollution is further limited by the absence of private automobiles and restrictions on using gasoline-powered vehicles because of the critical shortage of oil. The extent of water pollution is unknown, but it did not seem to be a serious problem in the P'yongyang area as of early 1993.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress