North Korean Flood Damage Made Worse by River Barriers

2015-08-14
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Farmers tend their field near Rason, North Korea, in a file photo.
Farmers tend their field near Rason, North Korea, in a file photo.
AFP

River barriers that North Korean authorities built to help irrigate crops affected by a recent drought may have contributed to the destruction caused by floods in certain parts of the country, sources inside the isolated nation said.

The barriers constructed by authorities in spring blocked the flow of water through gorges, so that torrential rains which fell in parts of the country at a high elevation in early August overflowed, destroying farmland and houses, said a source in North Hamgyong province, one of the affected areas.  

“Despite strong opinions that the barriers to enable irrigation should be eliminated to prevent flood damage, nobody took any action,” he said. “Since the barriers were set up under [North Korean leader] Kim Jong Un’s order, no executive order could bring them down.”

Before the river barriers were built, some North Koreans pointed out that building them could cause greater flood damage, he said, but the warning fell on deaf ears.

The city of Hoeryong in North Hamgying province experienced downpours from late July to early August, and authorities declared Hwadea, Kiljou, and Myongchon counties flood-affected areas, he said.

They also declared the city of Tanchon and Heocheon and Riwon counties in South Hamgyong province flood-affected areas, he said.

The drought damage has become worse because of Kim Jong Un’s inflexible instructions, the source added.

Ryanggang province

From early spring to early summer, North Korea suffered a severe drought, except in the mountainous area of the northern region, where heavy rains fell, a source in Ryanggang province said.

“In Ryanggang province, torrential rains caused loss of life in June, and dozens of deaths and damaged assets in July,” he said. “The heavy rain continued in August.”

Casualties occurred in the towns of Chun-dong, Tapseong-dong and Hyehwa-dong and the heavily populated city of Hyesan, while many houses were destroyed in Weiyan-dong, he said.

Beakam county in Ryanggang province also recently had heavy rains, the source said.

“More crop damage was caused by the torrential rains than by the drought,” he said.  

Torrential rains left 21 dead and nine missing between Aug. 1 and 5, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

The floods affected more than 3,400 people in North Hamgyong, South Hamgyong and South Hwanghae provinces, and damaged about 4,000 hectares (9,884 acres) of cropland, according to the OCHA. They also destroyed nearly 700 houses and toppled roads, bridges and dams.

All North Korea’s provinces have experienced less rainfall this year than they usually do annually, but the difference in the level of rainfall was most severe in May and June, OCHA said, with North Korea’s southernmost provinces being affected the most by the drought.

The South Korean government is examining the degree of damage from the floods that occurred in North Korea in early August to decide whether to provide humanitarian assistance, Yonhap news agency reported on Thursday.

Reported by Sung-hui Moon for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Ahreum Jung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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