Food and shelter needs still acute following floods in DPRK

Published: 17 November 2011 13:59 CET

By Francis Markus in Pyongyang

With thousands of survivors of severe floods in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea still seriously short of food and proper shelter, there’s an urgent need for more support towards relief efforts, but also for more backing and investment for disaster risk reduction.

Local officials and national Red Cross society staff say that only about 20-25 per cent of the rice crop in the worst hit province of South Hwanghae is expected to be saved, following the flooding.

An emergency appeal launched in August, has targeted 6,000 families for emergency food distribution over a period of two months and 1,000 of the most vulnerable survivor families for construction materials to rebuild their homes in a more durable way to resist potential future flooding.

But appeal coverage so far has only generated enough resources for an expected emergency food relief distribution to 6,000 families for only one month, and for the reconstruction of homes for only about half the families targeted.

“Our assessment team was incredibly rigorous in identifying the most vulnerable among the vulnerable and we very much hope to be able at least to support these people,” said Igor Dmitryuk, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent’s (IFRC) Head of Delegation in DPRK.

In the tiny community of Soksa Ri, in South Hwanghae province, which was worst affected by the deluge in July 25-26, Sin Hyon Sun, 38, holds up a bowl of maize with a few vegetables. “This is all that my husband and I have for our lunch and every meal,” she says.  “My son cannot easily digest this kind of food, but I have to make him eat because there is nothing else.”

Only the handful of toddlers in the village kindergarten are receiving any rice at the moment. It is also mixed with maize and vegetables to make it go further.

With grain rations from the government distribution system down to only about 200 grammes per day, Red Cross staff say many of the local farmers are too malnourished to be able to work in the fields.

Ms. Sin and her neighbours are currently living in temporary houses which have been hastily put up by the community to give them some shelter from the elements. But these dwellings, built using materials salvaged from the ruins of homes destroyed by the flood waters, are vulnerable every time the region is subject to fresh flooding.

In the village of Chontae Ri, about 40 minutes drive away, several families are still living in tents made from Red Cross tarpaulins, where they cook their meals of maize and vegetables, using makeshift stoves that burn rice stalks.

In several provinces of the DPRK, the national Red Cross society, supported by the IFRC, has for the past decade, been running disaster risk reduction projects in about 100 communities.

During times of flooding over recent years, this support has been shown to be effective in mitigating the effects of disaster. Communities actively discuss and engage with the hazards they face and receive training in how to evacuate the most vulnerable and keep themselves and others safe.

The projects also involve the construction of small dams or run-off channels to reduce the impact of floods.

In the 1960’s and 1970’s, Korean school children used to sing songs about the ‘Yellow Gold Mountain’, describing the then landscape of thick forest. But the deforestation of the country – which Red Cross-supported tree planting can only slowly help to reverse – has played a major role in increasing vulnerability to floods.

One of the significant issue for South Hwanghae province, is that the government has not yet granted approval for the Red Cross to operate its disaster risk reduction programmes, but this may change in the future. “Next year we will be running two pilot projects in South Hwanghae. But of course in order to operate on a wider scale there, we would need more resources,” says Kim Kwang Il, Director of the DPRK Red Cross disaster management department.

Meanwhile in the province itself, the society is convinced that such projects will make a difference. “We are absolutely positive that there will be an impact if we can implement such disaster risk reduction measures,” says Pak Chun Ok, Vice President of the South Hwanghae Red Cross branch.