DPRK Red Cross helping to rebuild communities after floods

Published: 14 September 2011 13:00 CET

By Igor Dmitryuk in South Hwanghae

With large areas of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) battered by storms and floods throughout the summer months, The IFRC recently launched an emergency appeal for 3.5 million CHF to help the most badly affected and vulnerable survivors. They include 1,000 families who need help rebuilding their homes, destroyed by the heavy rains and flood waters.

During our visits to the villages where thousands of people have had their homes destroyed and damaged by heavy rains, floods and strong winds, my colleagues and I had the feeling that we are at a crucial moment. A little bit of help from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Red Cross (DPRKRC) could help to break a vicious cycle of vulnerability.

With their characteristic resourcefulness in the face of disaster, villagers have already started gathering together what materials they can salvage from their destroyed houses: bricks, wood and other useful things. However, when we visited South Hwanghae just after the floods, the process of rebuilding homes and communities was only just getting started.

Local authorities have already been fixing the roads so that supplies can get in and out of their communities, and in some places they’ve built temporary bridges.

Those affected by floods, with the help of their communities, are setting about trying to rebuild their homes. The problem is that of most rural homesteads are made of mud and limestone. The combination of low-quality materials and years of neglect means that even when homes are patched up, they will remain vulnerable to future flooding.

The DPRKRC, supported by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, has been working with the country’s Academy of Science and Technology, to produce a simple and effective design and specification for homes that will be able to resist the regular onslaught of the floods.

All it takes is simple materials which can be bought locally: approximately six cubic meters of timber, some steel bars and cement. If we are able to provide these commodities to the 1,000 worst-affected families, then they will have a much better chance of protecting themselves and their loved ones from the regular danger of flooding.

But time is not on our side. Local community leaders told us during our meetings that there are only a few weeks left before the onset of cold weather. If we miss this window of opportunity, people will either have to rebuild as best they can with the materials they can salvage, or they will be left to endure freezing temperatures under makeshift tarpaulin shelters. This will inevitably take its toll on the young and the elderly who are far more likely to succumb to respiratory diseases.

Food needs are vital

Of course this isn’t the only pressing need in those communities. When we visited local people living in temporary shelters, they were living on simple meals such as yams and maize porridge twice a day - just enough to keep hunger at bay.

We asked how long supplies would last. A week at the most, a villager said.

The villages we have targeted with our appeal are not being supplied with emergency relief under any other agency’s relief plans. Working with our international partners, we have the opportunity and obligation to do our best for them. This province has long been regarded as the country’s granary, but after the destruction caused by this summer’s storms and floods, the people here need help to regain their livelihoods.