GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 416 August 17, 2011

[“Good Friends” aims to help the North Korean people from a humanistic point of view and publishes “North Korea Today” describing the way the North Korean people live as accurately as possible. We at Good Friends also hope to be a bridge between the North Korean people and the world.]
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[Editor’s Note] Sending Cookies and Instant Noodles for Flood Victims Regrettable
Nearly 135,000 Acres of Land Flooded by 5 Hours of Heavy Rain
Mounting Casualties from Flood, Victims Plead for Food Aid
Even Bureaucrats Are Stunned
Flood Damage Restoration Mobilization Interrupts Individual Businesses
Farmers Are the Hardest Hit by Flood
Grain Fields of Gangwon Province Also Turned into Wasteland in Split Second
[Editorial] Urgent Need for Emergency Food and Recovery Equipment
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[Editor’s Note] Sending Cookies and Instant Noodles for Flood Victims Regrettable
This summer South Korea suffered greatly from an unusually long raining season, severe torrential downpours, and a series of typhoons. Seoul was not an exception. Some areas of Gwanghwamun, Teheran-ro, and Gangnam were completely submerged under water and a landslide at Mt. Umyeon caused deaths of the residents and severe loss of the properties. The most urgently needed aid items for the flood victims were food, water, medications, disaster recovery equipments and manpower. Instead, suppose the government provided the victims with cookies, instant noodles, and snacks for young kids. How many of South Korean people would think an appropriate action was taken for them?

In response to the request of North Korea, South Korean government decided to support snacks for infants, instant noodles and biscuits. North Korean government has officially asked international community for help because they concluded that it was beyond their ability to deal with the damage caused by the flood. The South Korean government has no reason to hold off the aid since it maintained a policy that it can provide aid to North Korea when there is a request. The issue is what aid items to send for the victims. We urge the North and the South Korean governments work together and make concerted efforts to provide the most urgently needed aid items to the victims.


Nearly 135,000 Acres of Land Flooded by 5 Hours of Heavy Rain
Major farming areas in South Hwanghae Province have been flooded by a downpour of heavy rain that fell continuously for 2 days from July 30th to 31st. In particular, in Gangryeong, Baecheon, and Chungdan Counties, approximately 135,000 acres of land were flooded in only 5 hours. The disaster struck so suddenly that the farmers stood helpless, not able to do anything. The Chungdan County and Namchun-ri cooperative farms were instantly turned into unrecognizable fields as rice plants were pulled out by the roots due to the sudden downpours of rain. One farmer in Chungdan County described the damage, “No matter how much water we pump out, the fields are still under water. The affected farmland totals over 35,000 acres. We tried to dig the rice plants out and wash the mud off but they are already turning yellow and dying of disease.” In Gangryeong County the corn and rice fields that were flooded totaled close to 73500 acres. The crops are buried under huge piles of mud created by flood water and landslides so the farmers are not even attempting to dig them out. Because of the damages caused by the torrential rain the farmers will not have anything to harvest in the fall.


Mounting Casualties from Flood, Victims Plead for Food Aid
The casualties from the flood are quite serious as well. According to the report by the South Hwanghae Provincial party, the number of missing or dead residents in the province is more than 200 so far. In Kangryung, Chungdan, and Baechun counties, the number of completely destroyed houses already reached 2,000. The flood victims rushed off to take refuge in an annex of farm. In Baechun County, disaster recovery work is in much slower progress due to recovery efforts of the bodies found in mire. Many of the bodies are not yet identified and many of the missing people’s whereabouts are still unknown. In order to prevent fouling odor from the corpse and the spread of epidemics, sanitation agencies are spraying antiseptic solutions and quicklime to the residential areas.

In Kangreung County, school buildings were also severely damaged. Students and teachers had to stop classes to take refuge in farm buildings for four to five days because the roof and walls fell down or the classrooms became swamped by water and mud. Those schools damaged from the flood are temporarily using the meeting rooms which the Farm Management Council has provided for classes. Victims cry out that the hunger experienced during spring lean season was painful, but starving without a shelter is even worse. Moreover, there is a case of people dying after suffering from waterborne disease as their immune system weakens in the absence of shelter. Although the South Hwanghae Provincial party is struggling to mobilize measures to support the victims, they are still unable to provide food yet. Kim Panseok (alias) living in Chungdan County expressed his extreme despair by saying, "There is no support from the government. As such, people have to overcome the difficulties by themselves. This is the worst situation I have ever experienced and it is only getting worse."


Even Bureaucrats Are Stunned
The destruction of roads and railways all around South Hwanghae Province has led to large-scale disruptions in the area's transportation network including the train service. Approximately 1,000 meters of road stretching from Gangryeong County to Haeju City is impassable due to flooding, while a 20-meter high pile of rumble has covered a portion of the railway passing through the province. The blockage of roads and the downing of communication lines have made life difficult for investigators from the Central Party's Flood Damage Recovery Bureau. "Right now I am making decisions based on the reports I receive from cadres in the field. But it is hard for me to imagine the level of suffering people are experiencing now. The government ended up requesting help from the international community because we can't deal with all this damage by ourselves," said one Central Party cadre. Currently, provincial and municipal party cadres are heading out into the field to deal with farm damage and displaced citizens, while also spreading propaganda and leading recovery efforts to repair and rebuild destroyed homes.

The Central Party has been working to assist those displaced by the severe weather and encouraging flood recovery efforts. However, they are still unable to provide the resources needed for recovery effort such as food, construction material, and other supplies yet. "There is not enough building material like cement or wood to repair or build houses, so it’s a big problem. There is nothing to eat, and if there was equipment we could use to dig levees currently under water, we could get rid of all the flood water. However, none of these resources are available to help those who have lost their homes. There are no materials readily available to repair anything," a South Hwanghae provincial cadre said, speaking his mind on the difficulties in the recovery effort. Without assistance from the national government, the provincial party is left with their hands tied. "I think that the central government has finally realized that the flood damage is so bad they can't do anything about it. That's why they've requested international support. I hope that this time around the central party tells the world about what kind of damage has occurred so we can get help as soon as possible," he said, pinning his hopes on aid from the international community.


Flood Damage Restoration Mobilization Interrupts Individual Businesses
In Kangryeong, Baecheon, and Cheongdan Counties in South Hwanghae Province, all residents have been mobilized in an all-out effort for the flood damage restoration work. Housewives and students were put into reviving crops and factory workers were mobilized to restore broken bridges and train rails. As there is no equipment for restoration work, the work of filling the ground with soils has to rely solely on the labor of the women and children. Furthermore, the work of erecting and cleaning up rice crop requires manual work. Laborers have been pouring heavy rocks to the broken roads or train rails. Following the order from the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces, military units under the 4th Corps have been mobilized in the restoration work. Soldiers have been put into the hardest work of digging the ground and carrying rocks. However, that is not an easy task even for soldiers since they are not sufficiently fed.

Residents complain, stating, “We need to eat to do the restoration work. How could we work without eating even corn meal?” Cho Soonsil (alias), residing in Cheongdan Town in Cheongdan County rap out her complaints about the lackadaisical of party cadres, saying “Party officials from the province and county visit the restoration work site in the name of giving instructions. However, they never touch the dirt with their hands. All they do is tallying the number of workers.” While residents had to stop their business for the restoration work, the party cadres who can afford more comfortable life never bother to assist the effort by joining the labor work. In case of Cheongdan County, residents could not do their business because the market was closed for the whole week after the flood. Since the starting of restoration work residents had to participate in the labor mobilization from early morning every day. As such, they can only go to market after 2 pm at best. Lee Keumsook (age 39, alias), who sells manufactured materials in the Bacheon Town of Baecheon County, expressed her concerns about the current situation, saying, “I have been going to market every day to sell clothes. However, I have not been able to sell a single piece. I have to pay for the spot every day even though I don’t even earn 100 NKW. I need at least 2,000 NKW a day to make ends meet. If the current situation continues, I would not be able to make a living. To make matters worse, I have to worry about the food price going up since the flood damage will impact this year’s harvest.”


Farmers Are the Hardest Hit by Flood
The hardest hit by the recent flood are farmers. Despite the flood, people in other occupations—such as merchants—are still able to make a living, however unskilled they are. Since farmers are unable to engage in trading, the only means of making a living is to rely on farming whether it is individual small land patch farming or working at collective farms, but everything was washed away by the flood. Jung Hee-chul (alias), who works at Shimpyong collective farm in Chungdan County expressed his deep concern saying, “My house collapsed and my plot of land was washed away in the heavy rainfall. We have thus far survived with only two meals of porridge per day. I don’t know how to endure life with no prospect for grain harvest this fall. I have moved to a mud hut for an emergency shelter. While it is barely livable during the summer, I have no idea of where to escape once the temperature begins to drop. I feel so hopeless.” Han, Keum-ok (alias) said, “ I go out to my small land patch farm every day, trying to lift up a few corn cane stems, but come back with nothing but tears in my eyes in despair—even the corn cane I dug out in a mudslide turns out to be inedible. Our agricultural technology officials are in despair, too. It is seriously doubtful that straightening up the rice stalks that were submerged in the flood will help produce any grain harvest. They are worried about the level of drop in harvest caused by the flood.”


Grain Fields of Gangwon Province Also Turned into Wasteland in Split Second
The localized torrential downpour of this summer hit Gangwon Province as well. Landslides occurred throughout Pyung-gang, Chulwon, and Echeon Counties on July 30th due to the downpour of more than 50 mm per hour. In Gaechun Town in Echeon County, 4,900 acres of cornfield were submerged under water and most patch-fields were turned to wasteland due to a landslide. Approximately 1,715 acres of cornfield were turned into ruins in Ryongjung Town. Unlike South Hwanghae Province, Gangwon Province mainly planted corn, sweet potatoes and beans because of its mountainous environment, and the crops have been severely damaged. The corns all died because the stalks were broken. The sweet potatoes and beans were buried under the soil and sand, and there is no trace of them.

Most residents of Pyung-gang, Chulwon, and Echeon Counties have lived by slash-and-burn farming on their small land patch farms. During June and July, the residents who barely survived with only newly planted potatoes, devoted all their energy and resources into the corn farm, which will be harvested starting in August. Nothing is left for them to rely on due to the flood damage, and they are at a loss worring about what to do next. A serious death toll also occurred in Chulwon County. A sudden torrent outburst from a mountain valley swept away approximately 70 households in a flash, with dead or missing persons continually being added to the count. People, who have lost their houses, instantly evacuated to huts and are now starving because there is no food. Children have given up going to school because they are starved and have no energy. Kindergarten and daycare facilities have been swept away as well; currently there is no proper place to take care of infants and toddlers. Kangwon Province Party has started restoration operation hurriedly, but they are also experiencing problems with securing food, restoration equipment and supplies.


[Editorial] Urgent Need for Emergency Food and Recovery Equipment
There is much suffering everywhere in North Korea because of the past month's flood. With the rainy season starting from June, and the Typhoon No. 5 "Meari" as well as the Typhoon No. 9 "Muifa," heavy rain poured down without ceasing. The North Korean government unprecedentedly reported the disaster situation quickly and asked for aid from the international community. The International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) decided to provide 3,000 emergency relief kits, and an additional delivery of other necessary materials. The South Korean government also offered to provide supplies and medicines worth 5 billion won to the North. It is an extremely positive development that the North Korean government asked for help, and the South Korean government responded quickly in turn. Now what matters is the mutual consultation on which supplies and materials need to be delivered and in what manner, and reaching an agreement quickly to deliver the goods as soon as possible.

What is most urgent for the victims is food and water. It has been an exceptionally difficult year with a severe food shortage during last spring. The first half of the year has been difficult for urban residents with the economic downturn continuing from the last year, and for people in rural areas, all they had to eat until potato harvest in June was porridge made with grass. All they looked forward to was to harvest corn in August, but the heavy downpour destroyed cornfields. There is no drinking water as the water supply system became contaminated with the muddy water. People whose bodies have grown extremely weak after the dire food shortage in August need food, clean water, and medicine. In particular, Hwanghae Province urgently needs ways to take care of children, with many of its day cares and kindergartens destroyed.

In addition, construction materials and restoration equipments must be supported along with others so the flooded houses and the public facilities such as roads, railroads and river banks can be repaired. On July 29 when the landslides on Mount Umyeon occurred, Seoul City was able to mobilize approximately 2,000 restoration equipments with the assistance of others such as the Ministry of National Defense. They were able to clean earth and sand, uprooted trees, and gravel in 4-5 days because they had various equipments other than excavators and large trucks, such as fire trucks and approximately 70 pumps and chain saws. Even with such heavy equipments, however, it was not an easy task to clean up large rocks and logs. It is difficult to find proper equipment at North Korea’s flood recovery sites. Everyone, regardless of whether they are adults, children, women or men, just take actions to repair with their bare hands, A-frame carriers, spades and pickaxes. The soldiers who came to assist the civilians are struggling as well since they cannot move heavy rocks with their starved stomachs. Excavators to dig up earth and sand, large trucks to transport the soil, water pumps to pump water from the fields as well as generators are desperately needed. Construction materials such as rebar and cements which are needed in repairing the houses are also needed.

One should put himself into other’s shoes. Let us think about the North Korean brethrens in relation to the current situation in which the flood victims of South Korea have suffered as a result of this flood. The loss and pain of those who suffered the flood can never be healed easily no matter how promptly they are supplied with the best restoration equipments, food and basic medicines. So, how would the North Korean people feel, when they have to confront the wasteland solely by themselves? The foremost formidable enemies for them are immediate hunger and contagious disease. Since they cannot expect any yield for this fall, it is even more desperate when thinking about how to take care of the livelihood in the future. They can take refuge in a temporary shelter or a vinyl hut at this time, but when the season changes, they will be in desperate need of a house which will protect them from cold wind.

The South Korean government is said to send snacks for small children, biscuits, Choco Pies and noodles upon the request of the North Korean government which requested goods and supplies such as food and cements. We should ponder whether we have offered to give them an ointment for minor cut on the finger while the other side was requesting equipment for heart surgery. What is needed to those left in the areas struck by the flood is compassion. Hopefully, the South Korean government and the international community would alleviate the pain of North Korean people as soon as possible by supporting food, drinking water, medicines, construction materials for repairing damages caused by the flood, and heavy equipments.

1 comment:

Jay E. Simkin said...

North Koreans should be urged to imitate the Libyans. Don't send food to North Korea. Send rifles!!

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