Planting Trees in the Mongolian Desert to Fight Dangerous Dust Storms in Seoul

Honza Soukup/CC BY 2.0. The Gobi desert in Mongolia.

It's not quite the proverbial butterfly flapping its wings creating a hurricane across the world, but desertification in Mongolia is generating dangerous dust storms thousands of miles away.

Former South Korean Ambassador to China Kwon Byong Hyon made the connection more than a decade ago, and has helped spearhead an effort since then to plant trees in Mongolia, hoping to improve both the lives of nomadic desert herders there and the air quality his own children are exposed to back home in Seoul.

Dust Storms More Frequent, Intense
"Intense dust storms have blown across Korea throughout recorded history, but their frequency and intensity have increased in recent decades," PRI journalist Daniel Grossman reported recently for The World, profiling Kwon's "crusade to combat the yellow clouds at their source, hundred of miles away in the Gobi desert of China and Mongolia."

Angelo Juan Ramos/CC BY 2.0. A nomadic family outside their 'ger' (yurt) in the Gobi desert near Choir, Mongolia.

Severe desertification and drought in Mongolia, which is warming twice as fast as the global average, is making life more difficult than ever for traditional livestock herders. It's also sending an unhealthy amount of dust across Asia.

Reforesting Denuded Areas
The anti-desertification initiative Kwon founded, Future Forest, has recruited Korean and Chinese students to help plant some 4 million trees in an effort to "prevent the eastward spread of the deserts, the very source of the much-feared yellow dust storms," according to the Korea Herald. For his work, he has been named the first "Sustainable Land Management Champion" by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.

And Kwon is not alone. Korean activist Dong Kyun Park has also been raising money in Korea to plant trees in Mongolia, efforts that Grossman says has inspired "high-level government talk of reforesting denuded areas" in Mongolia and the establishment of a new nursery for native tree species in the capital city of Ulan Bator.

Tags: Activism | Air Pollution | China | Desertification | Deserts | Mongolia | South Korea

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