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[Newsmaker] North Korea battles severe flood damage

A man walks along the Taedong River in Pyongyang on Wednesday. (AFP-Yonhap)
A man walks along the Taedong River in Pyongyang on Wednesday. (AFP-Yonhap)

Days of torrential downpours have flooded hundreds of houses and vast rice fields in North Korea, with damage expected to grow further, dealing a blow to a regime already grappling with the COVID-19 pandemic and a flailing economy under international sanctions. 

Nearly 730 homes and 600 hectares of rice fields have been flooded. Some 179 houses were destroyed in Taechong-ri, Unpha County, northwest of capital Pyongyang, after a water levee broke due to the heavy rains, according to the North’s state media Korea Central News Agency on Friday. The KCNA said no casualties have been reported. 

The report marks the first time the North has revealed the scale of the damage, after it issued several flood alerts for provinces and areas near major rivers and lakes early this week. The North still has not revealed flood-related damage in other parts of the country. 

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un made a visit to the flood-affected Taechong-ri in North Hwanghae Province, and ordered officials to provide food and shelter for displaced residents, according to the KCNA. The date of Kim’s visit was not specified. 

“It is of priority importance to quickly supply sleeping materials, daily commodities, medicines and other necessities to the flood-affected people to stabilize their living as early as possible,” Kim was quoted as saying. 

He also ordered to provide displaced residents with grains from his own reserves, and told officials to help facilitate the use of necessary supplies, such as cement. Kim dispatched the army to rebuild wrecked houses, roads and other infrastructure alongside the people in the county. 

Kim last inspected flood damages in September 2015, on a visit to North Hamgyong Province, according to the Unification Ministry here. 

The leader’s visit is also intended as an effort to show that Kim cares for the people of the country and their livelihoods, at a time when the North’s economic woes are believed to have been exacerbated due to the coronavirus pandemic that forced the country to close borders with its biggest trading partner China, according to North Korean observers. 

North Korea has historically been vulnerable to flooding due to poor drainage, a lack of infrastructure and rampant deforestation, raising concerns about food security as rains arrive during the summer harvest season. Flood-stricken North Hwanghae Province is the country’s main agricultural region. 

At least 138 North Koreans died and 400 remained missing in 2016, after the country’s worst flooding in its history, according to data from the United Nations. 

Earlier, the North issued special heavy rain warnings for South and North Pyongyan and South and North Hwanghae provinces, as well as Kaesong, southern Jangan Province and certain inland areas of Kangwon Province.

Seoul’s Unification Ministry on Friday said it is watching the flood situation in North Korea, while maintaining its position to push for humanitarian cooperation on areas that are not political, such as natural disasters. 

By Ahn Sung-mi (sahn@heraldcorp.com)
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