When a Typhoon Hits North Korea, It's the Farmers Who Get the Blame for Crop Loss

2016-09-21
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Workers with UNICEF of North Korea survey the damage caused when heavy rain from Typhoon Lionrock caused the Tumen River to flood, Sept. 18, 2016.
Workers with UNICEF of North Korea survey the damage caused when heavy rain from Typhoon Lionrock caused the Tumen River to flood, Sept. 18, 2016.
UNICEF DPRK

North Korean authorities have already figured out who to scapegoat if a typhoon damages the secretive country’s food supply: the farmers.

Sources inside North Korea tell RFA’s Korea Service that authorities are already drawing up plans to punish farmers if another violent storm slams into the Korean Peninsula and damages the country’s crops.

“If farmers fail to prevent damage from a typhoon that results in a heavy loss of grain, then collective farms will experience responsibility issues,” said a source from Jagang Province, who spoke to RFA on condition of anonymity.

Another source from Yanggang Province told RFA that officials with the Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party are threatening to “punish both agricultural managers and farmers who cultivate the fields for failing to prevent crop damage.”

The threats have rattled North Korea’s agricultural sector, as farmers and managers resent being held accountable for an act of nature, especially since the central government appears more interested in exploding a nuclear weapon than investing in rural development.

“Collective farm managers and farmers are asking what methods will ‘stop the sky’ or prevent a typhoon,” the Jagang source said. “They are criticizing the central party for shifting all the responsibility onto them instead of developing countermeasures.”

Direct criticism of the central government from North Koreans is rare as is any criticism of the country’s controversial nuclear weapons program, but the absurdity of the situation is fanning resentment, the source said.

Of nuclear weapons and flood control

“Some residents are laughing at the threats by Pyongyang, saying: ‘How come the nation that has nuclear weapons and has the ability to make missiles still cannot come up with a method to prevent floods?’” said the source, emphasizing the tense atmosphere.

Flooding devastated portions of North Korea in late August as rain from Typhoon Lionrock pelted the country. International aid agencies reported that at least 138 people were killed by floods spawned by the typhoon and more than 100,000 people were left homeless. Other sources tell RFA that more than 200 were killed in the flooding.

The damage came mainly in North Hamgyong Province as a result of the Tumen River breaking its banks. The devastation caused the North Korean government to make a rare international appeal for aid.

Potato farmers in Yanggang and Jagang Provinces are particularly worried because they are just beginning their harvest, and could lose their crops if they are inundated.

“Farmers are beginning to pick potatoes in the fields that are easily damaged by flooding,” said the source from Yanggang. “The central party and agricultural industry continues to put pressure on farmers to do whatever it takes to prevent damage made by a future typhoon.”

More typhoons

Typhoon Malakas ripped through southern Japan on Tuesday, dumping torrential rain and causing widespread flooding.

After clipping Taiwan, the typhoon made landfall in Kyushu, Japan shortly after midnight local time, packing winds of up to 100 miles per hour.

The storm was expected to be downgraded to a tropical storm and head back out into the Pacific.

Malakas may not be the final storm of the season as Taiwan’s Central Weather Bureau on Wednesday announced that another tropical storm formed over waters close to Guam, and that it is likely to develop into a typhoon this weekend.

If so, it will be the 17th typhoon to form in the Pacific this year, and will be named Megi, the bureau said.

“If you tell people that there is another typhoon coming, and give the direction it is headed, you see shocked faces on the individuals who manage paddy fields for Jagang Province’s collective farmers,” the source in that province told RFA.

Reported by Sunghui Moon and Albert Hong for RFA.  Translated by Jackie Yoo.  Written in English by Brooks Boliek.

CH. 1: MANDARIN | CANTONESE

CH. 2: VIETNAMESE | BURMESE | KOREAN

CH. 3: KHMER | LAO | UYGHUR

CH. 4: TIBETAN

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