[Viewpoint]Refusing to die a ‘quiet death’

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[Viewpoint]Refusing to die a ‘quiet death’

Conditions in the Northeast Asian region where yellow dust originates are worsening every day. Mongolia, which accounts for over 50 percent of the yellow dust in Northeast Asia, is especially serious. Climate specialists in Mongolia are concerned that precipitation this year has only been 10 to 30 millimeters so far, when it should have been at least 100 millimeters. In fact, when I visited Mongolia, the river bottoms were visible due to drought and global warming. The dry climate was hurting the meadows, and lake water was disappearing. Even the locals say they have never seen such severe yellow dust.

According to the Mongolia’s Desertification Prevention Research Institute, over 90 percent of Mongolian territory, about 7.5 times the size of the Korean Peninsula, has turned into desert. There were fewer yellow dust storms in Korea this year, but this is little comfort considering conditions in the country where the dust originates.

Northeast Asia is a bio-region that makes up a single ecological belt. Environmental aggravation in one part affects the entire region. The most notable outcomes of environmental changes are desertification and yellow dust. Therefore, Korea and the international community need to take an active interest in resolving these problems. They are the mutual challenges of Northeast Asia.

What solutions do we have? The organization I have been a part of for the last 10 years has studied the origins of yellow dust and places where climate change is occurring. It has concluded that the best possible response is to help restore the wasteland’s natural ecological system. The problem is that restoring the ecosystem is very difficult when climate change and desertification are in progress and the locals do not have sufficient knowledge to help the soil recover. Unlike China, Mongolia has financial and technological challenges in both governmental and private sectors. They cannot afford to respond to the crisis due to a lack of environmental information and awareness, so the situation in the place where yellow dust originates is increasingly bad.

Lately, I am asked these questions: Should we plant trees in the place where yellow dust originates? Should we plant grasses? I respond that we can plant trees and grasses according to local conditions. However, it is more important to encourage local participation when taking climate, soil and water resources into account. The key to preventing desertification is to integrate the issues local residents face when combatting it.

The organization I am involved with and local residents have experience restoring ecological systems through local participation without digging wells. The survival rate for trees was over 90 percent during the critical three-year period when they establish roots. The organization and residents created a successful forestation model by planting 120,000 trees in Mongolian regions struck by desertification since 2000.

This is only a beginning, but it is an important accomplishment for local residents and students, and it gave the locals confidence.

It is critical to improve conditions in regions where yellow dust originates. Climatic change and desertification are progressing rapidly, but the responses are very slow. This situation has to be reversed. We need to create an international body to respond aggressively and fully to prevent climate change and desertification.

The role of world leaders is very important. Korea’s Ministry of Environment celebrated Environment Day on June 5. Executive Secretary Luc Gnacadja of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification attended the ceremony. He described desertification as “the quiet death of the global village.” Ban Ki-moon, the secretary general of the United Nations, appealed to the people of the world on Environment Day to “kick the CO2 habit.” We should listen to Executive Secretary Luc Gnacadja and Secretary General Ban and work to prevent the quiet death.

When the heads of nations and the corporations responsible for global warming accept the challenge fully, the global village will finally find a way to save itself from a quiet death. Every year, June 17 is designated as the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought. As we observe the day, we have new hope for the environment.

*The writer is the secretary general of the Citizen’s Information and Media Center. Translation by JoongAng Daily staff.

by Oh Ki-chul
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