Scramble for Water Pumps

Floods and power shortages challenge North Korea’s water supply system.
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The late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il visits the Ryongaksan Spring Water Factory in Pyongyang in a photo released by the official Korean Central News Agency on Jan. 20, 2010.
The late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il visits the Ryongaksan Spring Water Factory in Pyongyang in a photo released by the official Korean Central News Agency on Jan. 20, 2010.
AFP Photo/KCNA via KNS

With water supply systems failing due to floods and power shortages, North Koreans are resorting to using manual pumps to get clean water, sources say.

From households to factories, the pumps are being used to boost the pressure of water supply choked by old pipes or to draw water to their premises in the absence of electricity to power the water systems.

“Almost every family has this manually operated pump. Even those in first-floor apartments and the families of high-level officers use the pumps,” a source in North Hamkyung province in the north of the country said, speaking to RFA’s Korean service on condition of anonymity.

Demand for the pumps is constantly increasing, even though at between 40,000 to 60,000 won (U.S. $10 to $20 based on market exchange rates) they are a significant expense in the impoverished nation, the source said.

The official average monthly wage for government servants is about 2,000 to 6,000 won (U.S. $0.70 to $2).

A source from neighboring Yanggang province, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said that factories have also started using pumps to keep their operations going amid the poor water supply system.

The source added that some factory workers in Yanggang and North Hamkyung provinces make pumps on the sly during work hours and then sell them in the market to supplement their incomes.  

Power shortages

The demand for manual water pumps has risen due to worsening water supply systems plagued with power shortages and old pipes, the first source said.

In the winter, people have difficulty getting piped water on account of power shortages. Even if they have enough electricity, the pipes are too old to deliver the water.

In North Hamkyong’s Hoeryong city, dirty water is what usually comes out of the pipes when there is heavy rain, due to an outdated facility in the catchment area.

This year, however, even the dirty water didn’t come out due to lack of electricity, sources said.

Residents unable to get water at their homes used to go long distances to collect water from rivers or wells, but recently, they have started utilizing water pumps to draw the supply, they said.


Heavy rains are also taxing the country’s water supply system in the wake of severe flooding in July and early August, which left at least 169 dead and heavy damage reported across North Korea.

In the aftermath of the disaster, the U.N. and the Red Cross said the floods had badly affected water sanitation, and both organizations provided emergency water stocks and water purification supplies along with food aid.

“The drinking water system has been badly damaged [in some areas],” Francis Markus, a spokesman for the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Beijing, told Agence France-Presse after a tour of the flood-hit areas in North and South Pyongan provinces earlier this month.

Reported by Sung Hui Moon for RFA’s Korean service. Translated by Juhyeon Park. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.





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