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Research Reports
Developing a framework of water security and cooperation in transboundary rivers of south and north korea
 

Developing a Framework of Water Security and Cooperation


in Transboundary Rivers of South and North Korea




A transboundary river is a river which shapes the border between different countries or which flows through at least one national border. A transboundary river can offer the riparian countries  a basis with which to cooperate with one another for the use and management of the river water. At times, however, it can also cause conflicts between neighboring countries. The Korean peninsula is divided into North(N.) and South(S.) Korea, and the transboundary rivers have brought both cooperation and conflict upon the two Koreas. If N. Korea and S. Korea cooperatively manage and use the transboundary rivers in a rational and fair way, the rivers can stimulate the peace and prosperity of two Koreas. To this end, people need to consider the rivers from the perspective of water security, more specifically sustainable access to water of adequate quantity and acceptable quality. In response to such needs, this paper analyzed the water management practices and vulnerabilities of water security of two transboundary rivers - Imjin River(Imjin R.) and Bukhan River(Bukhan R.), developed a cooperation program to strengthen water security at the transboundary river basins.




First, the authors of this study reviewed the international laws and issues on the management and use of a transboundary river. Many existing laws and principles on a transboundary river were ambiguous, at times even contradicting each other. The problem stems from when riparian countries start to negotiate on the transboundary river, as their negotiations are based on such laws and principles. At the same time, they also need to consider the political and economic conditions of the river basins such as geographical, economic, and social asymmetries.


Second, the authors analyzed the status of Imjin R. and Bukhan R. as well as their vulnerabilities from the perspective of water security. It should be noted here that data on N. Korean territory were very limited. However, what is clear is that both Imjin R. and Bukhan R. have following vulnerabilities.




○ The geological and geographical conditions of these river basins were not suitable to economic activities and vulnerable to flood damage, yielding relatively low social and economic levels in those river basins.


○ The authors investigated the flow regime of the two transboundary rivers and found a significant difference between the estimated and observed river flows. It is hypothesized that such difference results from the storage and diversion of river water at the upper basins(N. Korean territory). S. Korea, the lower reach, needs to prepare for the development activities at the N. Korean river basins.


○ Since the 1990s, land cover of S. Korean river basin has not changed significantly. However, N. Korea has continually developed forests and grassland, transforming them into urban districts and farmland. Worth noting here, N. Korea has relatively high population density at the river-adjacent areas. This high population density at the river basin and the poor water infrastructures may elevate the flood damages in N, Korea.


○ Preliminary assessment on water quality was carried out with satellite images of N. Korean basins. The precipitation and land use of N. Korean river basins may yield significant impact on the water quality of the large reservoirs. Moreover, the induction of non-point pollutants may cause eutrophication at the reservoirs, affecting the water quality of the lower reach in the process.


○ This study indicates that both transboundary rivers are vulnerable to water allocation, water quality, and flood damage. In terms of water security, water allocation should be the highest priority in these regions. The management and operation of hydro-infrastructures, improvement of water quality, joint river management, etc. are also vulnerable in terms of water security. Because these vulnerabilities will leave a lasting impact on the ecosystem, human health, and economy, both Korean countries need to enhance mutual water security at the transboundary rivers.




Third, the authors analyzed the difficulties in the negotiations between two Koreas on the transboundary rivers. Both countries have tried to negotiate the use and management of the transboundary rivers, but the absence of appropriate laws and systems, limited available data, different political positions, etc. have prevented further discussions on the substantial measures. To overcome such difficulties, the authors suggest the following recommendations.




○ The water use of N. Korea should guarantee the flood prevention and water use of S. Korea. As such, the two countries need to reach agreements on the joint management and water use of the transboundary rivers.


○ Both countries need to establish a joint committee for the river management, including water quality improvement, ecosystem conservation, flood prevention, etc.




The proposed cooperation between two countries can be achieved in stages. The first step will be to ease the current stringent situation and to regain the trust between two countries. Exchanges of scholars and technical expertise on flood, water quality, and the ecosystem will be mutually beneficial. Joint investigation on the transboundary river basins and data exchange can motivate further cooperation. Then, the wo Koreas can discuss details of the agreement on the joint river management commission. In case of Imjin R., both countries already agreed on the principle of rational and fair use, mutual cooperation, and trust. Such principles can serve as the basis for the management and use of the transboundary rivers in Korean peninsula.