‘Everything turned into a sea for three days’

MCC partners in North Korea work to ease the suffering of thousands affected by flooding and landslides

Rachel Bergen, Mennonite Central Committee

Partners of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, also known as North Korea, are working to provide relief assistance for the hundreds of thousands of people affected by flooding and landslides in the isolated country.

From Aug. 28 to Sept. 2 of 2016, heavy rains caused by Typhoon Lionrock pounded six counties of Hamgyong Province in the northeast part of the country. According to the United Nations, 138 people were killed, more than 100,000 were displaced and 600,000 others are in need of assistance.

One of MCC’s partners in the region, the Canadian organization First Steps, visited the affected areas along the Chinese-North Korean border to survey the damage and deliver relief assistance.

In Yonsa County, Bong-Suk Shin, 65, and her grandson Kum-Hyok Kim, 11, dug through the ruins of their home, looking for any possessions they could salvage. “Everything turned into a sea for three days,” Shin recalls.

Shin and Kim lost all their personal keepsakes and household belongings, including kimchee pots used to store the staple winter food. In their county alone, 81 are dead or missing, and of a population of approximately 40,000 people, more than 27,000 are homeless. 

Susan Ritchie, executive director of First Steps, was part of the group that went to visit the region. She was startled by the immensity of the damage. “When First Steps went to visit in October, we travelled in a big circle, driving for a full day and most of the night. In that journey, all we saw was devastation,” she says, including destruction and damage to many homes, schools, clinics, bridges, roads and rail lines.

But among this devastation, Ritchie saw signs of hope. “Everywhere we went we saw people who were affected by the flood, as well as people who had been mobilized from all over the country, to work to rebuild their homes,” she says. “There were people of all ages gathering stones, which I assume will be used in construction. People are working hard to try to get their lives back on track.”

In September, MCC’s American partner, the Christian Friends of Korea, distributed 500 relief kits and 110 school kits to respond to the flooding in Musan and Yonsa counties.

In addition, MCC, through First Steps, will purchase 6,060 square metres of corrugated steel roofing for rebuilding damaged daycares, Kindergarten classrooms and clinics in Yonsa. Approximately 4,200 children will benefit from this project.

“Thanks to MCC, children in Yonsa will have a safe place to study and play where they will be shielded from the cold, allowing more family members to focus on rebuilding the community,” Ritchie says. “Patients will be able to take refuge from the cold as they seek medical attention.”

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