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Late on the night of 29/30 August 2016, devastating floods hit six counties in North Hamgyong province. The flooding was caused by a pulse of water, created by very heavy rain, flowing down the Tumen River flood plain creating a violent torrent of water that washed away people, buildings, animals and crops. The situation was aggravated by Typhoon Lionrock raising sea lavels and preventing the flood water discharging into the East Sea/Sea of Japan. The floods lasted until 2 September. It affected 600,000 people with more than 500 being reported dead or missing.
The floods forced nearly 70,000 to flee their homes. A total of over 29,800 dwellings were damaged including the complete collapse of more than 11,600 houses. At least 900 production and public buildings were destroyed or damaged, according to sources. The scale of the flood disaster was “beyond anything experienced by local officials” said a UNICEF official at the time.
The state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) went further, describing the devastating floods as the “biggest cataclysm” to effect the DPRK since Liberation [from the Japanese] more than 70 years ago.
There was a swift emergency response from both UNICEF and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). The IFRC worked through the DPRK Red Cross Society mobilising staff and volunteers from 1 September 2016 though to 11 September 2016 for immediate aid operations that included rapid assessment, evacuation, search and rescue, first aid and to distribute 7,000 non-food items.
On 13 September 2016 the IFRC released Swiss Francs (CHF) 506,810 to meet the humanitarian needs of 20,000 people.
On 20 September 2016 the IFRC launched an Emergency Appeal for CHF 15,199,723 to support 28,000 people for 12 months but quickly updated the number to be helped to 330,000 people for 12 months.
The discouraging news is that during the 14 months that have elapsed since the initial flood Emergency Appeal was launched, the IFRC has twice had to reduce the amount of money its Emergency Appeal was seeking due to lack of support from donors. Not even the initial need for coal in the winter of 2016/2017 could be addressed due to funding contraints.
The IFRC’s most recent revised Emergency Appeal seeks CHF 5,037,707 to deliver assistance and support to 110,000 people (27,500 households) which is a reduction from the 330,000 people (82,500 households) that was originally planned. This is the second revision of its Emergency Appeal budget; in January the IFRC issued its first revised Emergency Appeal which reduced the amount sought from CHF 15,199,723 to CHF 7,421,586.
Despite this latest reduction in the Emergency Appeal budget to CHF 5,037,707, which is just one-third of the amount originally planned, there is still a funding gap of CHF 250,832 in the amount needed to carry out even the reduced emergency relief. The IFRC explains that “due to low appeal coverage, the original proposed interventions are being revised in consultation with [the North Korean Red Cross Society]. Priority will be given to the most vulnerable households identified in the target municipalities, as well as vulnerabilities of individual or specific groups.”
In its needs assessment, the IFRC is concentrating on 5 areas:
- Health: This responsibility is shared. The Government of the DPRK is responsible for building new health facilities while two UN agencies, the World Food Programme (WTF) and UNICEF, are responsible for the supply of essential medicine. The IFRC plan to cover other additional needs such as supply of basic medical kits (for community clinics and midwives) and solar power systems (for heating, hot water and light). The latter are needed because of the long and very cold winter and the unreliable electricity supply infrustructure.
- WASH (WAter, Sanitation and Hygiene): In this flood emergency the main WASH element is to ensure the availability of safe drinking water. To do this requires the rehabilitation of damaged pumping stations and the contruction of new gravity fed water supply systems as an alternative to shallow wells that were contaminated or rendered unuseable. Hygiene promotion is an obvious urgent and high priority in flood affected communities until water supply and sanitation systems are restored to safe functioning.
- Shelter: In the first months, there was an immediate need to supply shelter for families whose homes were destroyed while finding the resources to build new homes and repair damaged ones.
- Disaster preparedness and disaster risk reduction: The IFRC says that “affected communities had very limited preparedness for a disaster and even less capacity in disaster response as they were not exposed to disasters in recent history.”
- National Society Capacity Building: This involves a wide range of activities including replenishment of emergency items and equipment, acquiring of additional equipment (vehicles, computers, communications support, etc), and training of staff and volunteers to increase their effectiveness and capacities for the next disaster.
There is a recognition by the IFRC that UN Security Council Sanctions against the DPRK will impact its humanitarian aid operations. It notes that sanctions “will potentially increase delivery times of humanitarian aid … as all items have to be crosschecked with the sanctions item list.” It adds that “a provision for this has been included in our plans.”
 IFRC Emergency Plan of Action (EPoA) DPRK Flood in North Hamgyong (1 November 2017) – http://adore.ifrc.org/Download.aspx?FileId=175386
 Reliefweb: Report from IFRC – https://reliefweb.int/report/democratic-peoples-republic-korea/democratic-people-s-republic-koreanorth-hamgyong-province-2
As discussed in an earlier blog piece, poor energy infrastructure, lack of inputs and the resulting energy insufficiency and poverty is a core element of North Korea’s ongoing humanitarian crisis. In the case of major instability in the DPRK, the production and supply of energy will be a critical part of mitigating a humanitarian catastrophe. The Nautilus Institute, who have exceptional experience around the issue of energy production and supply in the DPRK, recently produced a paper detailing the challenges and options for meeting immediate demands in the case of instability in the DPRK. The paper examined in the particular actions that could be taken by the ROK government and military as well as US forces who are likely to play a key role in stabilising the Korean Peninsula in such a scenario. The paper recognised that more work is required to examine the requirements and roles of external bodies such as NGOs and the DPRK’s northern neighbours, China and Russia.
Some of the key highlights of the paper include:
- A discussion of vulnerable populations, regions with particular energy deficits, industrial and public services sectors that are at risk and unanticipated shocks. For example the report highlights the issue of sewage treatment and possible public health impacts of a failure in this sector due to a shortage of power and necessary chemicals.
- A list of energy relief strategies. The paper points out that a number of ROK institutions have substantive plans for the long-term rehabilitation and integration of the North’s energy system. However, the short-term or immediate requirements in the case of instability may not have received adequate discussion or attention. The list includes proposals for the power sector, institutional strategies, fuel stocks, households and community strategies.
- Energy rehabilitation. The paper also has a comprehensive discussion of energy rehabilitation and the balance between short-term provision and long-term efficiency and development of the energy sector in the DPRK.
The paper can be found here.