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*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 2)

UNEP Report Shows Pollution In Pyongyang Worse Than In Seoul

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The air quality in Pyongyang is worse than that in Seoul, according to a report released by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) on Nov. 1.

   The average level of air pollutants in Pyongyang was found to be higher than that in Seoul, with other environmental problems also present in the socialist country such as poor water quality and rapid deforestation, the UNEP report showed.

   According to the report compiled by the U.N. agency together with the North's environment ministry, the average sulfur dioxide concentration in Pyongyang stood at 0.009 parts per million (ppm) in 2008, higher than the 0.006 ppm measured in Seoul the same year. The U.N. agency compiled the report after conducting surveys of the country from 2010 to last August.

   Sulfur dioxide, which is produced when burning fossil fuels, can cause respiratory problems and exacerbate conditions such as asthma and bronchitis.

   Dust pollution in Pyongyang also stood at high levels. The annual volume of combustion related precipitated dust in proximity to the industrial area in Pyongyang has slowly increased since 2004, despite a drop in 2005.

   Prevention of dust pollution is an important issue because the particulates can contain heavy metals and other toxic and radioactive substances that persist in the local environment, accumulate in food chains and affect the health of humans and animals.

   The pollution in the atmosphere has been attributed to an increase in coal-fired plants in Pyongyang as well as rising household consumption of coal, according to the report titled "DPRK (North Korea) Environment and Climate Change Outlook." The annual consumption of coal in North Korea grew from 22 million tons in 2000 to 27 million tons in 2007.

   Other factors such as the quality of water and the rate at which forests are declining were also found to be severe.

   The quality of major rivers including the Taedong, Amnok, Tuman and Chongchon, which supply drinking, industrial and agricultural water, has been degraded, mainly in the mid and lower sections, the report said.

   The majority of water pollutants come from the discharge of industrial wastewater and untreated sewage, particularly in rural areas where facilities are inadequate or absent altogether. Runoff from agricultural land is another source of contaminants, while soil erosion in deforested areas adds large sediment loads to waterways. The existing water quality monitoring program is limited and unable to provide accurate information on the quality of water in different systems across the country.

   A lack of sewage treatment facilities has left the Taedong River, which flows through Pyongyang, with an average chemical oxygen demand of 2.15 ppm in 2008, falling behind the environmental standard of 3 ppm, according to the report.

   The river's average coliform count stood at more than three times the standard amount recommended for the potentially hazardous bacteria, the report added.

   North Korea's forested land area has also been declining rapidly, as the area of timber forests was reduced by nearly 6,000 square kilometers between 1990 and 2002, due largely to soil erosion and the country's push to convert forests into agricultural land, the report showed.

   Between 1990 and 2002, the area of timber forest was reduced at a rate of approximately 480 square km per year and fell from a total of 81,333 square km to 75,541 square km. The decline in forested land has been reversed in recent years due to an active tree planting campaign. By 2005, the area of non-timber forests had increased by 5,000 square km compared with 1996 levels. The area of timber forests has been expanding since 2000, but has not re-established former levels of coverage that existed in 1990 and earlier.

   In response to its findings, the UNEP report said the North should set concrete environmental standards and implement eco-friendly technologies to protect the environment and promote sustainable development.