In the midst of the worst heat wave to ever hit the Korean Peninsula, sources in North Korea have reported that the Pyongsong region witnessed the deaths of 39 people due to the heat in late July.
A hospital-based representative in Pyongsong told Daily NK that as temperatures hit close to 35 degrees Celsius on July 28 to July 30, 39 of the some 300 people who were taken to various hospitals in the city ended up succumbing to their heat-related illnesses.
The North Korean Red Cross officially reported to the International Committee of the Red Cross on August 2 that there were deaths due to the intense heat in South Pyongan Province and South Hamgyong Province.
Cases of heat-related illness did include elderly citizens who had collapsed in their homes or on the street and other physically weak patients, but most were young or middle-aged workers who had been mobilized in [battle] teams to work on drought-relief projects in the intense heat, according to the source.
The fatal cases were reportedly victims of heatstroke at worksites, but the Pyongsong People’s Committee simply identified the dead workers and made no mention of compensation to the families, steps to be taken to prevent such deaths from happening again, or an announcement that drought-relief work would be halted.
North Korea’s health authorities have reportedly done little to prevent such deaths from occurring again.
South Korea typically announces a “heat wave warning” and cautions people to stay inside if the temperature is predicted to stay higher than 33 degrees celsius over two days. North Korea, however, does not have such a system in place and its citizens are mobilized to work on drought-relief projects to prevent crops from drying out.
“In late July, the days were just so hot that it was difficult to go outside, but the authorities called for a ‘battle against the drought’ and forced people to head to the fields,” a separate South Pyongan Province-based source told Daily NK on August 19.
“Most of those mobilized to work on water supply projects had to carry water from a nearby water reservoir to the fields.”
“By the end of the morning, everyone was completely exhausted and complained of dehydration and extreme fatigue […] They didn’t get fed properly and got very little sleep, so it’s not surprising that they didn’t last that long and collapsed,” she added.
North Korea generally lacks water pumps to bring up fresh water from underground reservoirs so residents need to pull the water up themselves [using buckets] and carry it to the fields.
In other areas of the country, it has been reported that people have collapsed or even died as a result of working in the hot sun, but the authorities intend to continue drought-relief efforts until at least early to mid-August. For this reason, it is expected that there are more deaths than have been officially reported.
KCNA reported that daily high temperatures on August 3 reached 40.2 degrees celsius in Changdo and 40 degrees celsius in Musan, and that various other areas experienced temperatures higher than 35 degrees. The South Korean weather agency has predicted that North Korea will experience temperatures exceeding 30 degrees celsius this week, following a dip in temperatures last weekend.