The Red Cross plans to reallocate disaster relief funds to North Korea to assist with cleanup and rebuilding efforts from recent floods that devastated a special economic zone in the northeastern part of the country, sources familiar with the situation said.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and North Korea’s Red Cross Society are conducting a comprehensive joint needs assessment to determine whether to redirect money from the Disaster Relief Emergency Fund recently delivered to the isolated nation last month.
If approved, the funds would be redirected to rebuilding and restoration work in the Rason Special Economic Zone in northeast North Hamgyong Province. Heavy rains brought by the tail end of Typhoon Goni on Aug. 22-23 pounded Rason, causing landslides and forcing residents to flee to higher grounds.
More than 40 people are believed to have lost their lives in the SEZ, which the government set up in the early 1990s to promote economic growth through foreign investment, while 1,000 homes have likely been damaged, RFA’s Korean Service previously reported.
An IFRC official, who declined to be named, told RFA on Monday that the organization would reallocate about $200,000 of the fund, which had been delivered to North Korea early last month to provide emergency relief operations for damage caused by floods from torrential rains in North and South Hwanghae provinces.
The official, however, did not provide any further details about the assessment results except to say that the organization would issue them after further confirmations.
Some 500 foreigners, including those participating in the 5th Rason International Trade Exhibition in late August, left for Yanji, the seat of the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture in eastern China’s Jilin province, after being stranded for two days in the city by floodwaters that destroyed bridges and railroads, sources who visited the region said.
North Korean officials were going to open a detour road as a temporary passage between Rason and the Wonjong Border Customs Office on the border with China, said an official from a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that operates in North Korea, who declined to be named.
After the heavy rains, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who is also first secretary of Korean Workers’ Party, issued an order at an extended meeting of the Central Military Commission that troops should perform repair work from the flood damage so that necessary restorations could be completed before the 70th anniversary of party’s founding on Oct. 10, the country’s official news agency KCNA reported last week.
Kim Jong Un’s order, however, has sparked worries among citizens that the flood damage is more serious and extensive than what was initially reported, some NGO staff members said.
KCNA released video footage of the flooding in Rason and reported that it had damaged nearly 100 buildings, including government offices, schools, nurseries and hospitals, as well as covered 1.24 million square meters (13.35 million square feet) of farmland.
One travel agency specializing in North Korean tours, which declined to be identified, said on its website that while it was difficult to get a full picture of the flood damage, it was much more severe than what was officially announced, and the death toll was expected to be much higher.
The agency called for urgent support from the international community, saying that $700 would buy a ton of rice for those affected by the flooding, while $450 would buy a ton of soybeans for cooking oil.
Foreigners are helping with the clean-up efforts in Rason, according to the travel agency.
But it appears that North Korea has not asked for any flood aid from the international community yet, various NGOs working with the country said.
The U.S. NGO Americares, which regularly sends medical aid to North Korea, told RFA on Monday that it has no plans to respond to the recent flooding in North Korea.
The organization, added that it would ship some $500,000 worth of regular medical aid, including antibiotics, cardiovascular medicine and prenatal vitamins, as well as winter clothing to North Korea in October.
Reported and translated by Hee Jung Yang for RFA’s Korean Service. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.