-Flood in North Korea-
Moon J. Pak
During the five day period between the August 29 through September 2, 2016, a severe storm called “Lionrock” hit the northeast, of North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea: DPRK); an area called North Hamgyung Province. The severity of the storm was so unprecedentedly high that it was officially designated as one possible, only in 100 years!
The “Lionrock” started at the Chinese coast of South China Sea near Hong Kong, moved up northeast toward the border areas between North Korea, Russia and Manchuria along the Tuman River, gaining strength, bringing in severe wind, torrential rain that even raised the level of the Tuman River by more than four meters!
The North Hamgyung Province is a mountainous area but with considerable agricultural and industrial elements of North Korea. Thus, the storm has inflicted a series of severe damages to its population;
1. 538 people were either perished or lost.
2. 116,300 people lost their dwellings, either collapsed or flown away.
3. 29,800 families became homeless.
4. 68,990 people lost any form of shelter coverage at all in spite of the approaching severe cold weather from Siberia and Manchuria.
5. Much of the means of transportation got lost due to damaged and flooded roads, rails, bridges, etc.
6. Massive interruption of power supply has resulted involving the whole areas.
7. Closure of public facilities resulted; schools, kinder gardens, clinics, government buildings, markets, etc.
The severity of this natural disaster befallen on them so suddenly had bewildered the leadership of the North Korea initially, and they did carry out the planned nuclear testing scheduled around the time.
But, quickly the country began massive aid and reconstruction effort, mobilizing the whole military, construction organizations, housing materials industry, at the expense of halting on-going, well-known, construction projects in Pyongyang, called “Ryumyung Street Construction” The fact that these series of drastic orders and directives came directly from its maximum leader, Kim, Jong-un, indicates the urgency of the matter and priority of these efforts, he placed.
In addition, as a highly unusual event, North Korean government issued a formal request for aid to the international community. More recently for example, their foreign affairs minister, Hon. Ri, Yong-ho, while attending 71st UN General Assembly, made an appeal for help to the member countries.
World Food Program (WFP), that has an office in Pyongyang was the first to respond to the appeal by sending its representatives to the affected area and delivering emergency food supplies. It was followed by an offer of help from the UN-CERF(Central Emergency Relief Fund) in the form of $4.85 million worth of medical supplies. The government of Switzerland also offered $3.6 million assistance.
It is of course not possible to come up with the amount of the total need of assistance for the recovery of the area but just to meet the urgent human needs, such as, food, clothing, shelter from impending severe weather, power supply, and medical supplies, it is variously estimated that the total need could surpass well over $28 million and may go over up to x10 of the amount.
Among the Koreans in the South as well as in the U.S., there were immediate movements to raise funds to help those brothers and sisters in the dire predicament. However, the activity was immediately stalled when the Korean Americans found out shockingly, that the U.S. government would not allow any remittance to North Korea since the country is under sanctions by the UN and U.S. The South Korean government was even further antagonistic to this humanitarian effort to help their northern brethren from starvation and freezing, by openly announcing that there would not be any official response to the call of help from North. Furthermore, it would not allow its citizens extending helping hands to their brothers and sisters in the North.
It appears that not too many in South Korea remembers, including president Park Geun-hye, that in 1984, when the flood hit the wide area of Seoul with a similar dire predicament on its citizens, North had sent 50 thousand barrels of rice, 500 thousand tons of cement, 10 thousand tons of various medical supplies across the DMZ carried by 1,400 trucks. The gesture resulted in a significant process of reconciliation between the two Koreas; South-North Red Cross meetings, family reunions, reduction in tension between the two militaries across the DMZ, etc.
It is also worth remembering that over 35% of the South Korean population is devout Christians and the country is known to send the largest number of Christian missionaries to the world. In other words, they subscribe to the teaching of “Love Thy Enemy-(Mathew 5:44)”, but do not “Love Thy Brothers and Sisters”
The refusal by the Obama’s U.S. government to allow the transmission of the relief fund to the North Korea by the Korean Americans, and threatening to define the effort as the violation of the Sanctions and Aid the Enemy Act also stands against the principles and ideals on which the country of America was established 240 years ago.
Yes, we raise issues cantankerously, on the human rights violation by North Korea, whether it is supported by evidence-based facts or not, but by refusing humanitarian aid to the people of North Korea suffering from the natural disaster, we are, ourselves violating their God-given human rights.
Regardless whether there will be some significant outside help or not, DPRK, led by its dedicated young leader, supported unanimously by the people and the society based on socialist ideology, surely will emerge overcoming the current hardship.
One would never know, it may even be that their current nation-wide slogan; “Junhwa Wibok” =“Convert the Disaster into the Betterment and Happy End” could be realized.
It is just such a shame that U.S. as well as South Korea is missing on the opportunity to exemplify the exercise of humanitarian generosity and thus improve their relationship with the DPRK.
(Korean Quarterly, VOL 19, NUM 05, Fall, 2016)
Moon J. Pak, M.D., Ph.D.
Senior VP, Korean American National Coordinating Council (KANCC)