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JH Ahn was an NK News contributor based in Seoul. He previously worked as an interpreter for United States Forces Korea.
Kim Il Sung University, North Korea’s oldest university, will open a new department focusing on reforestation and afforestation, the state-run Rodong Sinmun reported on Monday.
The establishment of the “Forest Science Department” came with significant support from the government, Rodong said, saying that Kim Jong Un himself ordered the opening of the new department.
“Kim Jong Un… urged [that we] establish a comprehensive center for the development of forest science human resources, ordered [that we] build such a facility at Kim Il Sung University and provided… help to do so in the shortest time possible,” it said.
“The Ph.D. students and other students for the upcoming semester are already chosen… the campus, which will be turned into a center for raising the forest science experts, is waiting for the students to arrive.”
The DPRK has long suffered from a high level of deforestation, a problem reported to have grown in severity as the state has sought to mitigate food and energy shortages by clearing land for agriculture and logging.
Kim Jong Un has repeatedly emphasized the importance of reforestation and afforestation, even declaring a “war against deforestation” in late 2015. Earlier in the year, signs appeared in North Korea threatening individuals who cut down trees with execution.
The courses, organized by officials from the Education Commission and the Ministry of Higher Education, are set to “follow the world’s trend” in forest studies.
Kim Il Sung University officials have reportedly provided the entirely of a newly built “modern office” (청사) for the classrooms, while also preparing textbooks, equipment, and laboratory tools.
The department, led by Park Seung Ho and multiple other researchers, has prepared 30 courses in less than three months, according to Rodong, with new textbooks and courses also developed during the period.
The Ministry of Land & Environmental Protection and the Ministry of Forestry have also provided material support to the department, it added.
The article did not clarify which “newly built modern office” the department will work from, though satellite imagery in January showed the university was close to completing its new Building no. 3. as part of a broader expansion of the school.
The creation of the new government-backed department suggests that past attempts to curb the country’s deforestation problem have failed, a long-time North Korea environment watcher told NK News.
“North Korea has been pouring lots of Juche-oriented afforestation efforts to turn North Korea green, such as planting hundred thousand of trees every year,” Son Gi-woong, Vice President of the Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU), said.
“But the fact that Kim Il Sung University is launching a professional course following world standards and the DPRK’s continued stage of deforestation show that their old attempts have pretty much failed.”
“By setting up this department, the DPRK will be able to have more academic exchanges to adopt better methods for afforestation.”
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: Rodong Sinmun