TOKYO — Floods that devastated North Korea last month are turning out to be worse than initially feared, with more than 100,000 people left homeless, according to aid workers who visited the area last week.
That puts Pyongyang in the inconvenient position of having to turn to the international community for help at the same time that the country is facing global condemnation after its latest nuclear test.
“The effects of this flooding will be even more dramatic and devastating than initially thought,” said Chris Staines, the head of the Pyongyang office of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. “The people there are in a very desperate situation.”
Staines was part of a group of 22 international and local staff from 13 aid agencies stationed in Pyongyang who visited the northern city of Hoeryong, across the Tumen River from China, last week.
Devastating floods ripped through the area Aug. 30 as Typhoon Lionrock lashed northeast Asia. North Korean authorities initially estimated that 44,000 people had been displaced between Onsong in the north and Musan, a major mining center 100 miles down river.
The government has confirmed that 133 people have been killed and another 395 people are missing, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said Sunday.
At least 140,000 people are in urgent need of assistance, OCHA said, including the 100,000 who have been displaced. About 600,000 people have had their water supply cut.
“My impression was that this was a much worse disaster than the statistics indicate,” Staines said by Skype from Pyongyang.
A water pumping station near Hoeryong had been wiped out, leaving 50,000 people without water, and medical clinics had been destroyed. Kitchen gardens and household livestock — chickens, ducks, pigs — had been washed away, Staines said.
“These households have clearly lost everything,” he said.
North Korean authorities had initially asked aid agencies to help with relief efforts using existing budgets and supplies. But now they plan international appeals for donations.
Their timing could hardly be worse. On Friday, Kim Jong Un ordered North Korea’s fifth nuclear test and its largest yet, triggering international calls for more sanctions to punish the regime. — The Washington Post