The term Urban Pollution is no longer alien to any of us. It has dramatically affected how lives lead in the 21st century. It is the introduction of harmful substances to urban areas or cities. Thus, discussing urban pollution is fundamental to our lives and vital for the imminent change of a future way of living. And when it comes to Korea, whether South or North, both face diversified pollution as a centralised character. The cause of environmental pollution is rapid industrialisation and urbanisation. Specifically, it is a concerning fact for the North Koreans due to their lack of awareness of technological conditions and other factors. 

Urban pollution: North Korea - Sheet1
Smoke from factory_©Patrick Hendry via Unsplash

Pollution: A Recurring Nightmare

North Korea has its environmental acts which aim to be the solution for environmental pollution and is entirely governed by politics. But the sad truth is that the country is exposed to massive corruption and the grave danger of ecological damage. A few reasons for this concern might be its lack of technological conditions and development or uneven urban development. It is prominent to acknowledge that even though North Korea’s environmental issues are globally represented, the actual environmental damage is still not fully known.  

The main types of pollution witnessed in North Korea are air and water, just like in any urban area. But the cause for this comes from the everyday activities in each household in the country. Low-quality coal and wood are mainly used, followed by burning household waste for heating and cooking purposes. Air pollution, especially in industrial areas, is at a severe level and high in concentration. And along with this concern, water pollution in North Korea is due to the industrial waste from the factories. Due to untreated sewage, water pollution is considered pretty dense in the most populated areas, such as the Taedong and Tumen Rivers. 

Urban pollution: North Korea - Sheet2
Smoke rises from a chimney in the town of Pyongyang_©Josh Smith via REUTERS

Other Environmental Problems

A report states that in 2003, Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, faced tremendous amounts of air pollution due to coal combustion. This is interesting because when most large cities face air pollution due to public transport, it is not the primary cause when it comes to North Korea. Therefore it is clear that the lack of adequate environmental protection and the absence of other necessary protection are the causes of pollution in this country. Further, it was confirmed in a survey taken in 2017 that almost 90% of sanitation facilities were not connected to a sewage system. 

It was also rumoured that human waste was used as fertilisers in the fields. As a result, this will create a high risk of spreading intestinal worms, putting health at risk. North Korea destroys or burns its waste mainly in the open air concerning the right way of treating waste disposal. When the city of Pyongyang is considered, most of the waste produced is coal ash in addition to food waste, glass, metal, plastic, and paper waste. Reusing waste is a great solution, but it is limited due to a lack of technology and accessibility.

Urban pollution: North Korea - Sheet3
Smoke rises from a chimney in the town of Pyongyang_©Josh Smith via REUTERS

Health Concerns for the Citizens

A report by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) in 2003 described North Korea as a place with mountains and forests facing severe environmental challenges. With the increase in population in the last few years, it is claimed that there is an increase in the usage of coal, which is the primary power source in households. Further, the increased consumption of firewood leads to deforestation and soil erosion. The death rates in North Korea due to the increasing air pollution are the highest in the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed this fact. There is no doubt that people are exposed to an environment with no proper air pollution treatments but instead of air pollution multi-emissions fuel. 

In North Korea, chlorine and other chemicals are higher than the required environmental standards due to polluted water. Further, the negligence of treating sewage water mixed with excrement makes the people who consume tap water have stomach pain. Even the basic environmental facilities and conditions that should be provided, such as sewage treatment plants, must be correctly developed. These practices will harm the people of North Korea. 

Urban pollution: North Korea - Sheet4
Street scene, Pyongyang, North Korea_©Social Income via Unsplash

The Present Day

In recent years, North Korean officials have taken many measures to improve the environmental act regulated by the country. In support of the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, the North Korean government supports better climate change. Further, they have also taken significant steps to introduce solar energy and other renewable sources. A new law was passed in 2020 regarding materials recycling. 

Pyongyang, North Korea_©Thomas Evans via Unsplash

Changes cannot be seen or expected within a short time. North Korea will improve its environmental requirements and conditions in the long run. And will help to flourish the health of their citizens in a more improved state. 

  1. Wikipedia. (2022). Pollution in Korea. [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 Nov. 2022].
  2. Wikipedia. (2022). Environment of North Korea. [online] Available at: [Accessed 20 Nov. 2022].
  3. Tenenbaum, D.J. (2005). International Health: North Korean Catastrophe. Environmental Health Perspectives, [online] 113(1), p.A26. Available at:
  4. North Korea’s push to use more coal clouds environmental future. (2019). Reuters. [online] 29 Jan. Available at:

Apart from being immersed in books and fictional worlds, you can find Akshaya being engrossed in the world of literature, art, and architecture. As a graduate of architecture with a deep passion for writing, she aims to merge the worlds of creativity and create fresh ideas to implement in her works.