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UN Agency to Provide Funds for N. Korean Reforestation

FILE - A North Korean man rows a boat past logs, which were tied together and transported by boats on the Yalu River near the North Korean city of Hyesan, Aug. 16, 2014.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization says it plans to aid North Korea in its efforts to restore forests and landscapes.

In a telephone interview with VOA, Doug McGuire, coordinator of FAO’s Forest and Landscape Restoration Mechanism, said the organization decided in July to provide $150,000 to Pyongyang.

“The program is meant to help the country address those concerns by looking at how to engage in a variety of activities that will restore the productivity and potential in their landscape,” McGuire said.

In what the FAO dubbed as the “readiness phrase,” the agency plans to help North Korea establish the policy and needed technical assistance for the restoration.

For 2016, the readiness phase will involve “holding discussion with officials in DPRK, understanding exactly what the needs are and devising a plan that will then help the country to move in to a larger, upscaled phase of action.” McGuire said.

McGuire said that once the overall plan is established, he expects to receive additional assistance from other countries, including South Korea.

“We have a possibility of a major program that would be funded by South Korea. We are hoping to have a major program that would, following the readiness phase in 2016, lead to an important effort that could help upscale this restoration activity,” McGuire said.

The South Korean government and the FAO jointly established the Forest and Landscape Restoration Mechanism last year. Seoul and Stockholm each contributed $3 million to the project. The French government has said it plans to contribute as well.

The project also assists the restoration of forests in other developing countries, including Guatemala, Rwanda and Lebanon.

North Korea is suffering from rapid deforestation, having lost one-third of its forest in the last two decades. Fifty-six percent of North Korea’s landscape is denuded, the FAO said. The main causes are land cultivation and reckless cutting down of trees by the impoverished population.

Meanwhile, Pyongyang has declared “a war against man-made deforestation” by embarking on a 10-year tree planting campaign to combat global climate change.

Speaking at a high-level meeting during the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris this week, North Korea’s foreign minister, Ri Su Yong, said his country would actively participate in global efforts to stall climate change.

Jee Abbey Lee contributed to this report, which was produced in collaboration with the VOA Korean service.