National mobilisation following floods are only making things worse

Thursday 29th September, 2016

Image from KCTV.

In the aftermath of the recent North Hamkyung Province floods, North Koreans have been mass mobilised to finish the rehabilitation of damaged embankments. But this will only lead to further trouble, says inside source.

Between the 29th of August and the 2nd of September, floods devastated parts of Hoeryeong City, among other areas of North Hamkyung Province.

The North Korean official mouthpiece, Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) made numerous reports covering the national response to the floods. In relation to infrastructure, a report stated that, “Amid a national mobilization drive launched to concentrate the country’s manpower and material and technical potentials on the flood damage rehabilitation, many construction units are rapidly moving into the disaster areas from major economic fronts where they had conducted the 200-day campaign.”

Reporting from inside North Korea, a New Focus correspondent said, “Hoeryeong is the area most affected by the floods. Areas close to the South Sea including Onsong have also been affected, but the villages adjacent to the Tumen River have been absolutely devastated. Everyday, the search for missing persons intensifies, as their families grow increasingly distressed.”

Elaborating on the relief campaign so far, “The North Korean government commanded that safe zones be implemented, complete with emergency housing as part of their relief campaign. Rumours spread among the people that housing is being set up at the foot of mountains, away from the river, but reconstruction has been slow due to the lack of resources. Flood victims are happy to hear that new housing will be made available by the government, but are worried about the quality of the homes. In particular, people worry about infrastructure – many North Korean apartments have inadequate pressure systems, making it difficult for those on uppermost levels to access water.

“North Koreans are also concerned about plots of land that surrounded their previous homes where people had cultivated vegetables. Most hope that they can eventually be relocated to their original neighbourhoods, but in the case that they are moved elsewhere, their old crops most likely will become new cooperative farms.

“Temporary relief in the form of tents, school buildings and the uppermost floors of apartments is being organised for homeless victims. Reconstruction of bridges, embankment, and stonework construction in landslide-prone areas are underway. Students, civilians, shock brigade members and the military have been mobilised.”

The corresponded asserted, “By the looks of it, the construction so far is of low quality. In an attempt to comply with the Party’s demands that embankment construction be completed by the end of this year, embankments are merely being patched up, not rebuilt. In the event of another storm, an embankment of this quality would be hardly effective. It would be in the people’s interest to invest more time in constructing an embankment properly designed to prevent flooding, even if it means passing the Party’s deadline.”

According to a testimony from one escapee, Kim, who arrived in South Korea one year ago, “North Korea and China simultaneously began embankment construction in 1960 on the basis of their economic ties. In 1990, China completed the complete reconstruction of those embankments. But North Korea’s embankments are the same ones from the 60s. Every single time the embankments were damaged, the damaged area would be fixed up temporarily. The embankments overall are too weak to withstand even a little rain – and they’re growing weaker.”

Kim said, “North Korean refugees watching the events of the flooding believe that the state is at fault. Simply patching up the embankments in the short-term are no longer viable solutions and will increase danger in the area. These floods should have been an opportunity for the North Korean state to reconstruct not only the embankments but other kinds of infrastructure, from scratch.”


Reporting by Park, Sun-hwa.

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