North Korea Evacuates Thousands as Floods Devastate Countryside

South Korean trucks carrying 500 tons of flour for North Korean flood victims move into North Korea across the heavily fortified border in Paju, north of Seoul, on September 21, 2021. A Seoul charity group sent flood aid to North Korea since the communist state was hit by a string …
JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/GettyImages

North Korea’s communist regime claimed Tuesday to be rebuilding roads, residences, and public buildings across its eastern provinces days after rainy season flooding forced at least 5,000 people to evacuate.

The Central Military Commission of the Workers’ Party of North Korea said it ordered various government officials and personnel to South Hamgyong province this week to “restore” roads “destroyed by heavy rain and flood.”

“In order to restore the road between Yonggwang County and Sinhung County, units of the [North] Korean People’s Army are rebuilding broken embankments while increasing the operation rate of building machines,” North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) claimed.

Intense annual flooding reportedly began to overwhelm poorly built infrastructure across North Korea starting August 2. The rains washed away entire communities and left others without electricity in the eastern provinces of North and South Hamgyong, where the flooding was most acute.

“North Korean state television reported last week that about 5,000 people nationwide evacuated as floods damaged about 1,000 homes,” Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported August 9.

A Chinese citizen of Korean descent with contacts in the North Korean city of Sinuiju detailed the community’s flooding aftermath to RFA’s Korean service on August 3. Sinuiju is located in North Korea’s west, across the Yalu river border from China’s Dandong city.

“This morning I got in touch with an acquaintance in Sinuiju over text message. He said that the entire city is flooding and that electricity supply to the whole city has been cut off since the afternoon of the 3rd [of August],” the source revealed. “Each neighborhood watch unit in Sinuiju held an emergency meeting and told residents to evacuate to nearby mountains or highlands should an emergency siren sound.”

Sinuiju suffered from severe flooding because it lacks “an effective drainage system to prevent such disasters,” a resident of the city told RFA anonymously on August 3.

“Due to heavy rains that fell for five hours from 9:00 am yesterday [August 2] every part of the city is flooded and the roads are cut off,” he said.

“The rivers overflowed and houses were flooded,” the resident added.

North Korea’s agricultural infrastructure is largely outdated, meaning the country will continue to endure outsized damage from annual rainy season flooding unless it rebuilds its agricultural sector, Mark Barry, the associate editor of the International Journal on World Peace, told RFA on August 9. The modernization would require assistance from foreign donors such as South Korea or China, though Pyongyang is likely to resist such aid, according to Barry.

“North Korea must become as resistant and resilient to these floods as South Korea. China may offer significant technical assistance, but [North Korean leader] Kim Jong Un will resist such help because of suspicion of Chinese motives,” he said.

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