WHO: Pollution Killing More People in North Korea than Nearly Any Other Country

A view of the North Korean capital Pyongyang shows huge steam clouds from coal powered power plants, 24 March 2005. South Korea confirmed 18 April 2005 the shutdown of North Korea's five-megawatt reactor at the Yongbyon nuclear power plant complex, 90 kilometers (50 miles) north of the capital Pyongyang, a …
PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty

North Korea is home to one of the highest death rates in the world from air pollution, as are mainly African and Asian countries, the Chosun Ilbo daily reports, citing a World Health Organization (WHO) estimate unveiled Tuesday.

An ongoing food crisis fueled by one of the worst drought in decades, rampant diseases, forced labor camps, extrajudicial detentions, arbitrary killings, and a plethora of other human rights violations are already plaguing North Korea, a communist nation known as the most isolated in the world courtesy of dictator Kim Jong-un’s murderous policies.

As if that is not enough trouble, North Korea saw an outdoor or ambient air pollution-linked death toll of “207.2 people per every 100,000” inhabitants in 2016 alone, the latest data available, the WHO estimated.

The Chosun Ilbo adds:

The death rate was worse among North Korea’s poor, according to the WHO because their indoor and outdoor air is more easily polluted as a result of their use of low-quality fuel.

Most of North Korea’s antiquated coal-fired power plants have no emissions treatment at all and just belch dirty coal dust into the atmosphere, except one near the capital Pyongyang.

North Korea’s outdoor pollution death tally was among the highest in the world along with countries with fatality tolls of 200 or higher, which are primarily located in Africa and to a lesser extent Asia, Yemen being the only exception.

Sierra Leone had the highest outdoor pollution-affiliated death toll of 314 per 100,000. Only two other countries analyzed by WHO exceeded 300 — Nigeria and Chad — both with 301 per 100,000.

In comparison, the United States had a rate of 17 per 100,000 in 2016.

On Tuesday, the United Nations human rights agency urged North Korea to stop castigating residents involved in non-government sanctioned market activities to ensure they earn an adequate standard of living.

Three-quarters of North Koreans depend on such illegal practices to make a living, the Korea Times reports, adding:

On Tuesday, the Seoul office of the U.N. Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR) released the report, titled “The price is rights: The violation of the right to an adequate standard of living in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” on Tuesday, stressing that engaging in market activities has become an “essential means for survival” for North Koreans in the face of the collapse of a state distribution system.

In a statement, OHCHR adds:

However, when people try to engage in rudimentary market activity, they face arrest and detention, including for traveling within the country, for which a permit is required. This situation invariably leads to a series of further serious human rights violations, due to absence of rule of law and due process guarantees.
The threat of detention and punishments ends up fattening the pockets of state officials who make the victims pay bribes to avoid arrest.   has neither sought to modify a failed public system, nor helped to establish a functional and legal private sector to alleviate the economic destitution facing much of the population.

North Korea “has neither sought to modify a failed public system nor helped to establish a functional and legal private sector to alleviate the economic destitution facing much of the population,” the U.N. office said.

According to the WHO, breathing in polluted air both inside and outside killed a total of 7 million people in 2016.

Exposure to outdoor air pollution is responsible for about 3 million deaths worldwide in 2016.

Those exposed to indoor air pollution do not fare much better with a total of 4 million of them dying.

WHO points out:


Household air pollution (indoor) kills 4 million people a year and again tends to mainly affect countries in Africa and Asia, where polluting fuels and technologies are used every day particularly at home for cooking, heating, and lighting. Women and children, who tend to spend more time indoors, are affected the most.

Women and children, who tend to spend more time indoors, are affected the most.

“Both indoor and outdoor air pollution can contribute to each other, as air moves from inside buildings to the outside, and vice versa,” the United Nations health agency acknowledges.

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