North Korea, officially Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), the country in north-eastern Asia that occupies the northern portion of the Korean Peninsula. North Korea is bordered on the north by China, on the north-east by Russia, on the east by the Sea of Japan (known as the East Sea in Korea), on the south by South Korea, and on the west by the Yellow Sea. It has an area of 120,538 sq km (46,540 sq mi). The North Korean name for Korea is Choson. The state of North Korea was established in 1948 as a result of the post-World War II Soviet military occupation of the northern portion of the peninsula. The capital and largest city of North Korea is P’yǒngyang.
II LAND AND RESOURCES
North Korea is extremely mountainous and marked by deep, narrow valleys. A complex system of ranges and spurs extends across the country in a generally north-eastern to south-western direction. The most prominent mountain range is the Nangnim, in the north-central region. Mount Paektu (2,744 m/9,003 ft), on the Chinese border, is the highest peak. Lowland plains comprise only about one-fifth of the total area and are largely confined to the country’s western coast and to the several broad river valleys of the west. Fertile alluvial soils are found in these river valleys. Most of the soils in the mountainous regions lack organic material and are relatively infertile.
A Rivers and Lakes
Nearly all the major rivers of North Korea rise in the mountains and flow west to the Yellow Sea. The longest river, the Yalu (Amnok), forms part of the border with China. Other streams include the Taedong, Ch’ong-ch’on, and Chaeryong. Of the major rivers, only the Tumen flows to the eastern coast to empty into the Sea of Japan.
North Korea has a continental climate, with hot summers and cold winters. The average July temperature at P’yǒngyang is 24.4° C (76° F). Winter temperatures at Wǒnsan, in the south, average -3.9° C (25° F) but are considerably lower in the north. Annual precipitation in most parts of the country is about 1,000 mm (40 in) and is concentrated in the summer months.
C Natural Resources
North Korea is one of the richer nations in Asia in terms of mineral resources. Major reserves are found of coal, iron ore, tungsten, magnesite, and graphite. Among the other minerals present are gold, silver, copper, lead, zinc, and molybdenum.
D Plants and Animals
Extensive coniferous forests are found in the country’s mountainous interior. Predominant species include spruce, pine, larch, fir, and cedar. The lowland areas of the west have been deforested and are under cultivation. Because of deforestation, large indigenous mammals of North Korea, which include leopards, tigers, deer, bears, and wolves, are becoming increasingly rare, and are confined to remote forested regions. Birdlife includes crane, heron, eagle, and snipe.
E Environmental Concerns
North Korea is diplomatically and politically isolated from most of the world, making it difficult to accurately assess the health of the country’s environment. North Korea does not produce enough food to be self-sufficient and relies upon agricultural imports to feed its population. Of the country’s land, 14 per cent (1997) is arable, and 12 per cent (1997) is irrigated. Severe flooding during 1995 and poor growing conditions in subsequent years have led to serious food shortages. A joint study by UNICEF and the European Union (EU) in 1998 found that 62 per cent of North Korean children has stunted growth, a symptom of chronic malnutrition. The United States, the EU, South Korea, and international aid organizations have initiated large-scale relief efforts to ease the famine.
In 1993 the United Nations (UN) recognized two protected areas in North Korea, although only 2.6 per cent (1997) of the country’s land area is officially protected. Many plant and animal species inhabit a heavily militarized area at the border between North and South Korea. An unknown number of landmines have been buried along North Korea’s borders, threatening the country’s human and animal populations. Forests cover 51 per cent (1995) of the country. Since the 1970s, it has been government policy to replant logged forests.
North Korea has ratified international agreements protecting biodiversity and the ozone layer. The country has also signed treaties limiting marine pollution, chemical and biological weapons, and whaling.
North Korea is one of the most ethnically homogeneous countries in the world, like South Korea, with no racial or linguistic minorities other than a small resident foreign (mainly Chinese) population. The dominant stock is of the Tungusic branch of the Mongol races. Koreans are essentially Mongoloid, but taller on average than Mongols, with lighter skin.
A Population Characteristics
North Korea has a population of 23,479,089 (2008 estimate). The average population density is 195 people per sq km (505 per sq mi). The population, however, is very unevenly distributed and is largely concentrated in the lowland plains of the west. Life expectancy at birth (2008) is 70 years for men and 75 years for women. Urbanization of the North Korean population has progressed rapidly since the 1950s; approximately 62 per cent of the total population of North Korea is now classified as urban.
B Principal Cities
P’yǒngyang has a population of 3,228,000 (2003 estimate). Other major cities include Chongjin, with a population of 754,100 (2007 estimate), Namp’o, population 715,000 (2007 estimate), Sinŭiju, 326,011 (1993), Wǒnsan, 300,148 (1993), and Kaesǒng, 334,433 (1993).
Although religious freedom is guaranteed by the North Korean constitution, in actual practice religious activity is discouraged, and about two-thirds of the people are declaredly non-religious. Perhaps the most prominent religious tradition belongs to the indigenous Ch’ondogyo (“Religion of the Heavenly Way”), which combines elements of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Daoism.
Korean is the official language in Korea. The exact origins of the language are unknown, but some experts believe it to be related to Japanese (origins also unknown) and to be from the Altaic language family. Some of the dialects are so distinct as to be almost mutually unintelligible. A phonetic writing system known as Choson’gul (called Han’gul in South Korea) is used. Chinese is also spoken by a minority immigrant community.
Eleven years of education are free and compulsory in North Korea. These include one year of pre-school education, four years of primary school, and six years of secondary school. In the late 1980s, some 1.5 million pupils have enrolled annually in primary schools, and another 2.8 million students attended vocational and secondary schools. The principal institution of higher education is Kim Il Sung University (1946) in P’yǒngyang. Total enrolment in some 280 institutions of higher education exceeds 300,000. The literacy rate is estimated at about 99 per cent.
Cultural activity is aided and encouraged by the government. Historical museums and libraries are located in many of the larger counties. The government has also formed national symphony, theatre, and dance companies.