At a glance: Korea, Democratic People's Republic of

Providing aid to children and families affected by severe floods in DPR Korea

UNICEF Image
© Reuters 2007
People walk in a flooded street in Pyongyang, the capital of DPR Korea.

By Dan Thomas

NEW YORK, USA, 16 August 2007 – Many children may have drowned and many more are seriously affected by severe flooding in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

According to assessments conducted by the government, the UN Country Team and other humanitarian agencies based in DPR Korea, 221 people have died, 518 have been injured and 82 are missing.

“A significant number of casualties are reported to be children,” said UNICEF’s Deputy Representative in DPR Korea, Michel Le Pechoux, adding that UNICEF is already providing assistance to help survivors of the flooding that has resulted from heavy downpours since 7 August.

Damage to infrastructure

More than 350,000 people have seen their homes destroyed or damaged and some 88,500 families are affected by the floods, Mr. Le Pechoux said in a telephone interview today from the capital, Pyongyang, after returning from a visit to the county town of Sohung in North Hwanghae Province on 14 August. (Listen to the interview.)

“What we saw confirms government reports in the sense that a lot of infrastructure has been destroyed, roads washed away, bridges destroyed, telephone poles down. We saw several neighbourhoods of the county town flooded with about one metre of water, and the water had just receded. The worst flooding in some neighbourhoods was over two metres,” he said.

Farmland has also been badly affected. Reports suggest that up to 150,000 hectares of crops could have been destroyed. In some locations, people have started to harvest unripe maize before it rots. A poor harvest could lead to food shortages later in the year.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF DPR Korea/2007/Le Pechoux
A swollen river in DPR Korea’s flood-affected North Hwanghae Province.

‘Deeply worrying’ food situation

"Our biggest concern is the damage caused to the crops and to infrastructure,” Mr. Le Pechoux said. “In many areas, the floods have destroyed not only entire harvests, but also roads and bridges. In Pyongyang, electricity is unreliable and is often cut off for long periods.

“From what I saw, the floods are seriously affecting the lives of women and children. In a country where the food situation is already critical, the consequences of these floods is deeply worrying," he added.

“Children are being affected at the moment mostly due to displacement of their families, having lost their homes,” Mr Le Pechoux said. “They are affected by lack of water because most of the water sources have been submerged and contaminated. They are also affected by a precarious food situation, which was already precarious before the floods and is only getting worse.”

Medical care and safe water

Despite the power cuts and washed-out roads, UNICEF is working with the government to provide:

  • Essential medical supplies to treat diseases that children and adults face living in flooded conditions; Mr. Le Pechoux explained that medical kits had been pre-positioned in the country for just such an emergency
  • Family water kits for 5,000 households; the kits had also been pre-positioned and will go out to families next week
  • Water-purification tablets and chlorine to help towns disinfect their water systems when the floods recede.

In the medium term, UNICEF is also planning to work with the Ministries of Health and Education to help repair health centres and schools damaged by the floods, Mr. Le Pechoux explained. Schools are currently closed for the summer holidays but will re-open in September.

Impact on children

“We didn’t get a chance to talk to displaced families but we could see some of the hardships met by both families who have had their houses damaged and the general population,” Mr. Le Pechoux said of his visit to North Hwanghae Province. “The children that I saw were going about their normal lives, but instead of playing in dry streets they were playing in 30, 40 or 50 cm of water.”

Some children seemed to be cold after being rained on for some time and from the damp conditions, he added.

Having worked in DPR Korea since 1985, UNICEF opened a permanent office there in 1997. UNICEF supplies equipment and training to the country’s doctors and nurses to ensure that children are growing and developing normally. Prevention of malnutrition is key and requires UNICEF to target both families and child-care institutions.

Contributions to UNICEF’s programme in DPR Korea are mostly used to procure essential supplies. International UNICEF staff monitor distribution of the supplies and provide valuable technical assistance.


 

 

Audio

16 August 2007:
UNICEF’s Deputy Representative in DPR Korea, Michel Le Pechoux, explains how children and families have been affected by severe flooding.
AUDIO listen

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