About the Author
View more articles by Colin Zwirko
Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
Updated December 2 at 17:45 KST to include comments from the IFRC in Pyongyang.
Over 6000 North Koreans were displaced amid high winds and flash flooding caused by Typhoon Lingling in early September, the DPRK Red Cross Society (RCS) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) reported in an update released Thursday.
The report, covering the period from when the storm hit on September 7 until September 27, said 1,774 households experienced flooding or damage, displacing 6,362 people mostly in the east of the country.
Wind speeds reached 30 meters per second and rainfall reached 30 mm per hour in some areas, the report said, while high tidal waves reaching 57-92 cm struck parts of the east coast.
Initial reports from North Korean state media said some of the most severe crop damage and other damage came in the western region where Lingling (called Typhoon-13 locally) first made landfall — in North and South Hwanghae provinces.
But Thursday’s IFRC report points to much more severe effects on the east coast in North and South Hamgyong provinces, with the town of Yonggwang taking by far the most infrastructural damage.
The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) also reported on September 8 that “five persons were dead and three persons injured” as a result of the storm, with a specific case of a roof collapse leading to a death in Unchon just south of Nampho on the west coast.
The IFRC said this week, however, that as a result of their prevention activities, “there wasn’t a single casualty in the above-mentioned counties and city,” appearing to refer to all the provinces mentioned in their report, including South Hwanghae where Unchon is situated.
The IFRC’s Pyongyang office later clarified to NK News regarding the discrepancy that this only referred to there being no casualties in the four locations in South Hamgyong targeted for prevention efforts and post-storm provisions.
IFRC detailed that 93 small homes including 233 total households in Yonggwang were completely destroyed by the storm, along with an additional 35 homes and 71 households in Jangjin, both in South Hamgyong province.
By comparison, all of South Hwanghae province only saw 18 homes totally destroyed and 176 individuals displaced, while South and North Hamgyong saw 4,636 and 1,550 people displaced respectively.
As for crop damage caused by Lingling, the IFRC report said 75,226 hectares of farmland — up from the 46,200 reported by KCNA just after the storm — across many parts of the country were damaged by “unusual strong wind,” though a breakdown by region was not provided.
Other problems wrought by the storm included “injuries, diarrhea, skin diseases and distress,” with “flood waters [that] caused latrines to overflow and pollute shallow wells dramatically increasing the likelihood of drinking water becoming contaminated.”
“It was also foreseen that the nutritional issue will emerge affecting mostly children under five, pregnant and lactating women due to submerge of arable land,” it said, referring to the predicted effects of damaged farmlands.
The report added that displaced persons living in temporary shelters may be more prone to “acute respiratory infection (ARI) such as cold and bronchitis,” especially as winter approaches.
In general, those displaced should expect to wait “at least three months” before being able to move into permanent houses, the report said.
NK News has also found evidence in satellite imagery that new apartment buildings have already been built since September in some of the hardest-hit areas, likely for those displaced by the storm.
As a result of their initial assessment of Lingling damage, the IFRC and DPRK RCS focused their efforts on providing “essential household items and health and WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) activities” to 1,292 households comprising 4,636 individuals in the counties most affected — South Hamgyong province’s Yonggwang, Jangjin, Tanchon, and Yodok.
IFRC also in its latest report revised its initial cost estimate — announced a day before the storm hit as the organization deployed its workers and volunteers to conduct preventative measures — from 56,285 Swiss francs ($56,384 USD) to 423,443 total ($423,918).
“Due to the scale up of the operation, the operation timeframe has been extended from one to five months,” it added.
In total, 27,801 individuals affected by Lingling are being assisted by the IFRC and DPRK RCS, along with local partners the State Committee on Emergency and Disaster Management (SCEDM).
That is down from the 42,500 the organization listed as being direct beneficiaries of their recovery efforts in the wake of Typhoon Soulik in August 2018, which was considered to be much more severe and which led to 76 deaths and 75 missing.
Though North Korean media claimed in the days after Lingling that the damage was less severe than initially expected, due also in part to enhanced prevention efforts, international aid organizations have made recovery efforts a priority in the months since.
The UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) allocated $6 million USD in mid-October to organizations working in the country to “improve urgent food security and nutrition interventions, and support increased access to water, sanitation and hygiene services for the most vulnerable communities in North Hwanghae, South Hwanghae and South Hamgyong provinces.”
And with flooding causing substantial damage across the country in recent years, prevention efforts have also become a major priority for North Korea and NGOs alike.
IFRC has itself conducted enhanced training, while the days before Lingling this year saw the extraordinary step of leader Kim Jong Un holding an emergency meeting encouraging the military and all people to engage in a “struggle” to help mitigate the damage.
The next update from the IFRC on post-Lingling effects is expected to be published in December, the organization told NK News.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: DPRK RCS