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Inside North Korea

Flooding in N. Korea



South Korea is experiencing a lull in the rainy season, which started late last month. The monsoon season is likely to enter a final phase this week, but the nation still needs to brace for heavy rainfall. What about the situation in North Korea? During the rainy season this year, North Korean media outlets have checked weather conditions daily and highlighted flood prevention measures nationwide. The nation seems to be focusing its efforts on preparing against torrential downpour of the annual rainy season, which has caused major damage to farm products. Today, we’ll learn about flood damage during the rainy season in North Korea and how the nation copes with it from Kang Mi-jin, a North Korean defector and reporter at the online newspaper, Daily NK.

Lately, North Korea’s state media, such as the Rodong Sinmun newspaper and Korean Central TV, have stressed the need to prepare for flood damage. It is reported that the country has refurbished banks and water reservoirs near the rivers, while reinforcing seawalls. Citing anti-flood measures in Sariwon city, which was hit hard by a typhoon last year, the media agencies have introduced ongoing projects aimed at keeping homes, public buildings and parks safe during the rainy season. In particular, they stress the need to protect farmlands and crops from heavy rainfall, noting that relevant efforts will determine this year’s agricultural production. Locals are said to have been mobilized to build embankments to prevent the overflow of streams and rivers, working split shifts of morning and afternoon.

North Korea’s border shutdowns in the wake of the COVID-19 epidemic have resulted in a setback in grain imports. On top of the rainy season’s negative impact on food production, this situation is expected to lead to an even more serious food shortage in the impoverished North.

Last year, Typhoon Lingling severely damaged North Korea’s agricultural products. Reports say that the devastating storm brought a drastic drop in farming output in the nation’s leading rice-producing province of South Hwanghae.

In September last year, Lingling struck the Hwanghae region, which is North Korea’s granary. The strong typhoon left 460 houses and 15 public buildings flooded, damaged or completely destroyed. At the time, North Korea reported that crops were flattened or were inundated in 46,200 hectares of farmland. The area is 157 times the size of Yeouido Island in Seoul. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un convened an emergency meeting on September 6 last year, as the typhoon approached. The following day, when the typhoon landed in North Korea, the nation’s Korean Central TV issued a rare typhoon advisory. It appeared that the entire nation was put on high alert for the powerful typhoon.

According to North Korea’s natural disaster vulnerability map released by the Korea Environment Institute based in Seoul in 2009, 42,600 square kilometers, or 35 percent of North Korea’s total area, are prone to flooding. The vulnerable area includes lowlands in the nation’s southern provinces of Gangwon and Hwanghae.

Also, the 2017 Asia-Pacific Disaster Report issued by the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific indicates that North Korea, among Asian countries, has the least capacity to respond to natural disasters. Why is North Korea so vulnerable to flooding?

The ground itself is not very stable in North Korea. North Korea only resorts to stopgap measures when dealing with torrential rains each year. An extreme economic contraction in the mid-1990s, known as the Arduous March period in North Korea, forced many local residents to cut down trees for firewood and to secure farmland. As a result, mountains in the North became barren. As the mountains are sparsely wooded, the soil does not hold water and even a slightly more torrential rain leads to flooding. Also, the fragile and outdated waterways and drainage facilities in cities fail to drain water properly, causing even more damage.

A research center under the European Commission called “INFORM” issues its global risk index every year. According to the report this year, North Korea got 5.2 out of 10 points in the index and was rated as the 39th most dangerous place among 191 countries reviewed. The risk index is based on a country’s exposure to natural disasters and the government’s risk-management capability. For North Korea, This year’s ranking is worse than last year’s. Here again, is Ms. Kang.

Some point out that North Korea lacks weather forecast capabilities because its meteorological equipment is old and the collecting methods of observational data fail to meet international standards. In the North, counties, cities and provinces each have their own weather station. But they make incorrect weather forecasts often, due to inadequate equipment. I lived in Ryanggang Province. Local residents, including farmers, had to depend on weather forecasts of neighboring North Hamgyeong Province as weather information in their region was usually inaccurate.

Fortunately, North Korea’s preparation for natural disasters has been improving little by little. This year, the nation reportedly adopted stronger flood control measures in advance.

Many analysts stress that South and North Korea need to cooperate for preventing and responding to natural disasters such as drought and floods as well as infectious diseases. West and East Germany, for example, agreed on the guidelines for joint disaster management before they achieved peaceful reunification. Likewise, experts call for South and North Korea to continue to make efforts to cooperate for disaster control within the frame of the international sanctions against North Korea.

North Korean residents take it for granted that they suffer flood damage every year. It is true that North Korea lacks technology and resources. South Korea’s advanced technology could be used to devise effective measures so North Korean people will no longer be exposed to floods and droughts. If North Korea is interested in carbon emissions trade, the two Koreas may strengthen cooperation in carbon emission rights. North Korea may also submit a proposal to the U.N.’s Green Climate Fund headquartered in Songdo, western Incheon in South Korea, so the fund can support inter-Korean cooperation programs in such areas of agriculture and water resources.

The Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of North Korea’s ruling Worker’s Party, has recently alerted people to flood damage. On July 24th, the article titled “Serious Damage from Heavy Rain,” delivered the news about torrential rain in other regions, including China and East Africa.

North Korea has set agriculture as one of the key industries to contribute to overcoming the economic crisis this year. Heavy rainfall during the rainy season is feared to do a great deal of damage to North Korea’s farming sector, and the nation is making an all-out effort to prevent that from happening.

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