North Koreans Pressed to Donate Labor, Cash For Flood Recovery Work

Authorities tell factories and citizens to provide building materials and perform manual labor.
Newly built homes stand in rows at a flood restoration construction site in Unpa county, North Hwanghae province, North Korea, Sept. 11, 2020.

Factories and residents in North Korea are chafing at new orders to help fund and build new houses for people on the country’s east coast whose homes were destroyed in floods early this month, sources in the region told RFA.

North Korean state television reported that 5,000 people were evacuated as floods damaged about 1,000 homes. The rains were heaviest in the coastal provinces of North and South Hamgyong, causing widespread power outages, inundating some buildings up to their roofs, and washing away roads and farmland.

The disaster hit North Korea as it struggles with food shortages and economic fallout from the closure in January 2020 of the border with China to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, which added to the pinch of longstanding international sanctions aimed at halting its nuclear program.

North Korea’s hard-pressed people are routinely called on donate labor, money, and food to national projects or for disaster recovery, and the task is made harder by a constant lack of material and basic equipment.

“Military and party officials come to each organization and the neighborhood watch units to propagandize that everyone should donate money or help, even a little bit, for their neighbors,” said a resident of South Hamgyong province, describing the mobilization in Kumya county.

“Small organizations with a small number of people have to donate funds and gasoline to the provincial party for construction,” he said.

“All households in the town are also tasked with donating 20 stones, five buckets of small pebbles, 20 buckets of sand, and nails,” the source, who declined to be named in order to speak freely, told RFA’s Korean Service on Aug. 20.

Although the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea and the provincial government said they would furnish basic materials and supplies necessary to build the houses, so far they have provided only cement, the source said.

To procure wood, officials have ordered factories and companies to cut down trees in a few cubic meters of forestland and use the wood for construction material, the source said.

The factories must send workers to the forest to fell the trees and then process the wood by themselves, while local residents also must pitch in to help with the recovery efforts, he added.

‘Struggling from the start’

The military has been put in charge of building apartments, and the provincial government must oversee the construction of single-story houses, said a second resident from South Hamgyong province, who also declined to be named so he could speak freely.

Provincial organizations and the South Hamgyong provincial party committee have set a goal for completion of the building construction by the 76th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea on Oct. 10, he told RFA on Aug. 20.

“As the provincial party committee imposed tasks on major organizations, factories, and companies in the province to build new houses in areas affected by heavy rain, restoration projects are underway in various areas, including in Sinhung county,” said the source.

The ruling party has pledged to provide construction materials such as cement, rebar, and gasoline, while the province is committed to supplying lumber and roof tiles, said the source.

“However, since it is obvious that these measures have not been properly prepared for, each organization in charge of building is struggling from the start of construction,” he said.

A huge obstacle is a critical lack of vehicles to transport construction materials and supplies, as well as the fuel needed to run them, the source said. Another snag is that the factories and companies must provide sand and gravel, the two materials mostly used for building houses, and there is not enough to go around.

The provincial party and government have taken the lead in restoring the national telecom network, which was cut off by the heavy rain, the source said.

Officials mobilized housewives and farm workers to dig ditches four-feet deep and two-feet wide to lay telecoms cables, with each person assigned to dig a 16.4-foot section of ground.

A resident of North Hamgyong province told RFA that digging trenches for the telecom cables was an arduous task for residents.

“Because Puryong county is a mountainous area, there are many stones and rocks, but there are no mechanical means such as an excavator, so people had a lot of trouble digging the ground with a pickaxe,” said the source, who requested anonymity.

The wives of officials and wealthy women were allowed to pay 30,000 won (U.S. $6.25) each to avoid manual labor, he said.

Reported by Changgyu Ahn for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.


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Aug 26, 2021 04:00 AM

The D.P.R.K. should stop its nuclear weapons program for sanctions relief. There's no threat of war at this time. The people have suffered enough already.