Floods have damaged tens of thousands of buildings in northeastern North Korea after the worst downpour there for decades, state media said today, urging all soldiers and civilians to join a drive to help victims. The report on the official KCNA news agency gave no death toll or exact figure for damage. A UN report last week, citing Pyongyang government data, said 60 people had been killed and over 44,000 were homeless along the Tumen River, which partially marks the border with China and Russia.
“Tens of thousands” of homes and public buildings had collapsed and railways, roads, power supplies, factories and farmland had been destroyed or submerged, according to Sunday’s report, citing the central committee of the ruling Workers’ Party. People in North Hamgyong province were suffering “great hardship”, it added.
The main thrust of an ongoing nationwide 200-day mass mobilisation campaign aimed at boosting the economy would be redirected to helping flood victims, it quoted the central committee as saying. The objective was to “direct all efforts to the construction of dwelling houses to provide flood-hit people with warm cradles and turn the flood-battered region into a fairyland in the era of the Workers’ Party within this year.”
The mobilisation campaigns have been condemned by Human Rights Watch as exercises in forced labour using political coercion to extract economic gain. But the state news agency, in a report later Sunday, said the response had been impressive “All the people of the DPRK (North Korea) have turned out in a struggle for reconstruction of disaster areas in the northern part of North Hamgyong province recently hit hard by stormy heavy rainfalls,” it said.
Many construction units including soldier-builders and shock brigade members were rapidly moving into the disaster areas from other construction sites where they had been waging the 200-day campaign. Officials and employees of the government, industrial establishments and cooperative organisations nationwide had “zealously” volunteered to take part in the flood damage rehabilitation drive.
“The railway transport sector is now striving to ensure the fast transport of building materials and equipment as well as groups of builders to the flood-hit areas,” KCNA said. Impoverished North Korea is vulnerable to natural disasters, especially floods. At least 169 people were killed by a massive rainstorm in the summer of 2012.
Its territory is largely composed of mountains and hills that have long been stripped bare for fuel or turned into terraced rice fields. This allows rainwater to flow downhill unchecked. A series of floods and droughts was partially responsible for a famine that killed hundreds of thousands between 1994-98, with economic mismanagement and the loss of Soviet support exacerbating the situation.