DMZ: A paradoxical treasureA presidential advisory committee has outlined a plan to turn the demilitarized zone that separates the two Koreas into an eco-peace park. Under the design, the government plans to develop the heavily fortified zone that symbolizes the country’s war-provoked divide and tragedy as a tourist attraction on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the 1950-53 Korean War.
Development in the buffer zone around the border has been pursued separately by different government offices and local governments amid rising awareness of the ecological significance of the biosphere.
Environmentalists, ecologists and developers alike have been eying the area’s potential as a wildlife refuge. Museums and tour packages have been pursued by various institutions. The presidential committee has belatedly stepped in for “traffic control” to present a comprehensive blueprint on development.
The DMZ, a 155-mile-long and 2.5-mile -wide buffer zone sitting on 248,000 acres of land, has, with the exception of a small area cleared of land mines, remained the world’s most heavily militarized border and dangerous place for humans for nearly six decades. That’s why the area has so far been untouchable and utterly feared by people.
Ironically, that’s helped to make the place one of the most well-preserved natural habitats in the world. A recent study discovered 16 types of endangered plants and 67 endangered animal species in the area, which includes swamps, lakes and prairies.
The site’s rich environmental resources have attracted tourists from around the globe. In a poll, about 30 percent of foreigners named the DMZ as the first place they wanted to see in Korea.
Any form of development at the DMZ should be strictly limited to an eco-tour program for wildlife conservation. The civilian-restricted zone has become narrower over the years and land prices around the border have been on the rise.
The government must pay heed to the calls to keep the area off-limits.
It must first aggressively campaign for the area to be designated a World Heritage Site by the United Nations. To win the title, the government must continue to persuade North Korea to comply with the joint ecological investigation of the area.
The DMZ is a paradoxical gift to the land which has seen so much modern tragedy. We should not victimize the ecological treasure for immediate economic gains.
We must muster the wisdom to transform a man-made tragedy into nature’s answer of peace and hope.