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Defunct Korean DMZ Could Become Wild Bird Sanctuary

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Dec 2015

    Defunct Korean DMZ Could Become Wild Bird Sanctuary

    By Rick Noack April 27 at 7:16 AM

    Washington Post

    BERLIN — In what he called a “walk toward the future,” North Korean leader Kim Jong Un crossed the border to South Korea on Friday morning, shaking hands with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and breaking with decades of historic animosity. For 65 years following the Korean War, no leader from Pyongyang had ever crossed the dividing line.

    Moon later also followed Kim’s invitation to briefly walk across the border into North Korea, before both returned to the South to commence their summit.

    Friday’s summit is one for the history books, but whether it will yield any results is still unclear. It could be the beginning of a real peace initiative, or a huge disappointment — or anything in between. In case of a success, however, one once-unthinkable question will emerge sooner rather than later: What would happen to the demilitarized zone (DMZ) that has separated North and South Korea since 1953?

    NGOs and European officials have long advocated for a plan that sounded rather outlandish for a long time, amid rising tensions between Pyongyang and Seoul: turn it into a wildlife refuge. As strange and removed from reality as that may sound, the Germans have learned one or two lessons in turning a “death strip” into a “rare birds’ paradise” after tearing down a wall that at one point had the world on the brink of a nuclear war.

    The DMZ divides the peninsula roughly in half and is about 160 miles across and 2.5 miles wide, with fences and other border fortifications. More than 25 million South Koreans live under constant threat from North Korean heavy artillery, much of it in fortified positions along the border.

    The numbers may be different, but the DMZ still bears striking similarities with the Berlin Wall and the border between West and East Germany before reunification in 1990.

    After the end of the Cold War, Germany transformed the 870-mile-long border into a wildlife refuge that became known as the country’s “Green Belt.” The idea was originally developed in the 1970s — more than a decade before the Berlin Wall came down, making hundreds of miles of sophisticated border fortifications a remnant of history.

    “The Green Belt is now home to countless natural wonders that have been crowded out in other areas,” German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said during an award ceremony for the project’s creators — Inge Sielman, Kai Frobel and Hubert Weiger — last year.

    Similar to the DMZ, the stretch of land between East and West Germany remained largely untouched for decades. When researchers finally accessed it after reunification, they found 90 percent of all German endangered bird species in a stretch of land in Bavaria that was only a few miles wide.

    “Like the European Green Belt, the DMZ and the civil control zone form a strip of land where nature has been able to develop largely undisturbed, creating a retreat for numerous endangered species,” Germany’s Federal Agency for Nature Conservation writes on its website.

    Whereas war, erosion and deforestation have led to an environmental degradation across much of the Korean Peninsula over the last century, the DMZ has allowed some of the species that were almost extinguished to grow again, such as the Asiatic black bear or rare fungi. South Korea has also taken some proactive measures to increase biodiversity there, by establishing crane conservation areas.

    Measuring the DMZ’s biodiversity is currently impossible, as biologists would have to survive land mines, automatic weapons and North Korea’s “shoot to kill” policy.

    Peace between North Korea and South Korea may allow researchers to enter that zone, but it would also pose a threat to the unique ecosystem there, even if that may sound like a less imminent problem than the possibility of nuclear destruction.

    In 2012, Germany and South Korea’s Gyeonggi Province agreed to officially cooperate on efforts to eventually turn the DMZ into a German-style Green Belt in order to avoid environmental degradation should both countries ever reunify or abandon the DMZ.

    The “walk toward the future” is now raising renewed hopes that wildlife researchers may eventually be able to roam around the DMZ as freely as Kim and Moon did on Friday, though for now that day is likely a very long way off.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2012
    That sounds good, hopeful for the future.

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