DPRK: Reforestation aims to reduce disaster risks

By Francis Markus, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, in Pyongyang

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) Red Cross is helping to replant trees in this once forest-rich country in a bid to curb floods and landslides worsened by decades of deforestation.

With food production remaining a crucial issue, however, the pressure from farmers to plant crops among the seedlings could threaten the success of the process. The project is supported by the Norwegian Red Cross through the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) as part of community-based disaster preparedness work in dozens of ri or grassroots communities.

"In Norway we practically live in the woods, so when we see a country that has historically been protected by a blanket of trees, but which has lost that protection, it makes us feel sorry," says Norwegian Finn Jarle Rode, the IFRC's programme coordinator in Pyongyang.

Seedling nurseries

As you scramble up the hillside above the village of Kisang ri, near the tomb of a 16th century Korean general and patriot, you come upon a cluster of young acacia trees. These are among millions of trees that are being planted each year from seeds grown at eight seedling nurseries supported by the DPRK Red Cross. The nearest of those nurseries is just a few kilometres away, in a river valley where row upon row of seedlings are grown using irrigation water pumped from the river.

Such community planting is an important source of forestry products and is useful in curbing erosion and landslides, although to achieve effective flood prevention, larger scale interventions outside the sphere of the local community may be needed.

In order to maximize the impact in disaster preparedness, forestry expert Michael Russell, who conducted a review of the DPRK Red Cross tree planting earlier this year, called for more to be done to protect the bare hillsides in communities such as Kisang ri.

Pressure from farmers

With pressure from farmers to be able to continue to plant crops among the trees on the hillsides, he cautioned that "if agriculture is allowed to continue within newly-planted bare and vulnerable lands," then the planting process "will be compromised."

Red Cross Red Crescent involvement in reforestation was stepped up in 2003, with mass tree planting and nursery support. It's clear that with its ability to mobilize tens of thousands of volunteers, and its access to technical support from the IFRC and the Norwegian Red Cross, the DPRK Red Cross can play a major role in reforestation efforts.

But it is also grappling with the challenge of helping people understand the importance of reforestation as a longer-term measure to reduce disaster risk when those same people are faced with the immediate needs of planting crops.