Thousands Evacuate Homes as Heavy Rains Flood North Korea

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Rainy season flooding has forced thousands of North Koreans to evacuate their homes and entire cities went without power as rising waters damaged buildings in distant parts of the country, sources in the region told RFA.

North Korean state television reported last week that about 5,000 people nationwide evacuated as floods damaged about 1,000 homes. The rains were heaviest on the country’s east coast, in the provinces of North and South Hamgyong.

North Korea’s state-run Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) reported Aug. 5 that the South Hamgyong Provincial Military Commission received direction in absentia from the country’s leader Kim Jong Un to proceed with recovery efforts.

“It was particularly mentioned that the General Secretary set forth it as an important task facing the chief secretaries of the city and county Party committees to pay primary attention to the life of people in the disaster-stricken areas and strengthen Party work, the work with the people, to rally the broad masses closer around the Party under such difficult situation as now,” the report said. 

Lying just across the Yalu river border from China’s Dandong, the North Korean city of Sinuiju from last week had no power, a Chinese citizen of Korean descent told RFA’s Korean Service Aug. 3.

“This morning I got in touch with an acquaintance in Sinuiju over text message. He said that the entire city is flooding and that electricity supply to the whole city has been cut off since the afternoon of the 3rd,” said the source, who requested anonymity for security reasons.

“Each neighborhood watch unit in Sinuiju held an emergency meeting and told residents to evacuate to nearby mountains or highlands should an emergency siren sound,” the source said.

The flooding in Sinuiju is a result of its lack of an effective drainage system to prevent such disasters, according to a resident of the city.

“Due to heavy rains that fell for five hours from 9 am yesterday [Aug. 2] every part of the city is flooded and the roads are cut off,” the resident, who declined to be named, told RFA.

“The rivers overflowed and houses were flooded,” said the resident.

Agriculture vulnerable

North Korea’s outdated agricultural infrastructure must be modernized to protect against future incidents of flooding, Mark Barry, the associate editor of the International Journal on World Peace, told RFA.

“My overall sense is that North Korea’s agriculture will always be highly vulnerable to flooding from heavy annual August rains unless its agricultural sector is rebuilt with the help of South Korea and other international actors,” Barry said.

“North Korea must become as resistant and resilient to these floods as South Korea. China may offer significant technical assistance, but Kim Jong Un will resist such help because of suspicion of Chinese motives,” he said.

The European Union’s Humanitarian Aid Department expressed concern about the flooding and other crises in North Korea.

“[The department] stands ready to provide assistance if border measures are loosened to allow for the import of aid materials and entry of international humanitarian personnel,” an EU official told RFA, noting that the humanitarian situation in North Korea has deteriorated since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The closure of the border with China since January 2020 devastated the North Korean economy, isolating the country from its largest trading partner and leading to shortages of food and other essentials.

“The EU humanitarian aid department is concerned that the severe weather and resultant flooding in August 2021 will lead to an overall worsening of the situation, while the strict border control measures prohibit the import of humanitarian aid goods or entry of personnel,” the official said.

Over the weekend, KCNA reported that “foresighted measures for preventing the flood damage are being taken in various sectors of the national economy.”

KCNA said “efforts are directed” in shoring up flood defenses at power plants, coal mines, farms, construction sites and fisheries.

Reported by Albert Hong and Jeong Yon Park for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.