On August 31 last year, widespread flooding hit Namyang Workers’ District in
Onsong County, North Hamgyong Province. The dyke on the Tumen River collapsed,
flooding villages downstream. Image: Daily NK
Although North Korea is currently in the midst of a drought, many residents are said to already be worrying about the rainy season and are making repairs to their houses. Kang Mi Jin of Daily NK is here to tell us more.
I had a conversation on the phone with sources inside North Korea recently and asked them which products are currently popular in the North Korean markets. The answer was that cement, nails, and planks are selling well, which was unexpected. People are said to be purchasing these materials to repair their houses before the rainy season gets underway.
North Koreans normally undertake house repairs after the autumn harvest season, but this year, many have started their repairs in the middle of summer. According to the sources, this phenomenon is occurring in North Hamgyong Province and Ryanggang Province, the regions that bore the brunt of the flooding last year. Many lost their houses, their property, or their family members, and so the rainy season brings anxiety to them, despite the current drought.
Residents residing near the river are said to be moving to higher ground or building new homes in other places. The residents seem to be taking these measures themselves, as the authorities have failed to make any plans for the impending annual floods.
The floods in North Hamgyong Province drew international attention last year. The residents in the flood-hit regions must be very worried. Are they repairing their houses out of fear?
Yes, as I mentioned earlier, North Korean residents usually repair their homes after the harvest season to prepare for winter. But this year, they’re beginning in the middle of summer and the types of repairs they’re undertaking are different.
Some residents have dug ditches around their houses and constructed barriers with planks to redirect water away from their homes. Also, people with single-storied houses have been putting cement on the lower areas of the outer walls approximately 60 cm from the ground, to try and prevent them from collapsing.
It seems that the residents are extremely wary of the floods as they were traumatized by the events that affected the entire province of North Hamgyong Province last year.
The residents who experienced the unprecedented flooding last year seem to be thoroughly prepare this year. Is that why cement and planks are selling well in the markets?
Yes, according to Daily NK’s sources, the residents living in apartments are trying to create a low-tilting slope on their roof to ensure water falls away from the house. This is because some residents were swept by the great flood while sleeping at night. People are said to be complaining that they have to suffer every year due to flood damage because the authorities do not adequately prepare. As a result of people’s efforts to reduce the flood damage, materials relating to house maintenance are selling well.
How much are the construction materials currently sold in the North Korean markets?
The price of 1 kg of Sangwon cement is 1,400 KPW at the Hyesan market in Ryanggang Province. In Hoeryong City in North Hamgyong Province, cement (1 kg) is being sold at 1,250 KPW. A source in Hoeryong City said that the price of cement is slightly lower than it was in fall last year. The source also noted that because the residents are actively repairing their houses, the merchants selling such materials have become very busy.
It is said that a single nail is selling for 100 KPW at the Hyesan market, and 1 kg of nails is selling for 1,400 KPW at the Hoeryong market. These nails are manufactured by the 8.3 private market affiliated with the Chongjin Steel Mill and by the Songjin Steel Complex in Kimchaek. The source noted that the most popular nails are 5 cm and 7 cm nails.
Even though people are digging ditches around their houses and reinforcing their outer walls with cement, it hardly seems enough to prevent flood damage. Are the authorities taking any tangible steps to address the problem?
The residents living near rivers across the nation, as well as those residing near the Yalu and Tumen Rivers become anxious about flood damage every year. People living in sloped areas are also worried because houses in these regions are often prone to muddy water seeping in, even from light rain. The rudimentary fortification of the houses cannot prevent dirt and rocks damaging the houses during the floods. In the end, houses can collapse or the outer walls become submerged in water.
Heavily forested mountains can allay the fear of flooding in the rainy season. But as there are not enough trees in North Korea these days, even a small amount of rain can fill the roads with muddy water. In recent years, some regions have been targeted for large tree-planting projects, but these trees are soon burnt down so that the land can be used for farming. The problem will persist as long people suffer from food shortages.
Thank you for sharing the information with us. Lastly, let’s take a look at the North Korean market prices.