Faced with heavy damage in South Hamgyong Province in the wake of torrential rains, North Korean authorities have reportedly deployed all army, navy and air force engineering units based in the province to recovery operations.

A source in South Hamgyong Province told Daily NK on Tuesday that authorities have deployed to recovery efforts all of the engineering units based on the province, including “those of the Army’s 108th Training Camp and Seventh Corps, the Navy’s East Sea Command and its subordinate flotillas and the Air Force’s 2nd Division command and Toksan Airbase.”

About 3,000 personnel, including ordinary soldiers, are reportedly engaged in recovery operations at flooded or damaged homes, roads, railways, bridges and agricultural fields.

“The units that took part in recovery efforts last year have once again gone to the areas they handled last year,” said the source. He said with soldiers repeating what they did last year in the same place at roughly the same time, some are complaining that their efforts are “pointless” because the nation “fails to take proper anti-erosion measures,” that once again they are in for a “hard time” like last year, and that they must not engage in mere “whitewashing.”

The chiefs of staff of the 108th Training Camp, East Sea Command and Air Force 2nd Division have assembled at the site of operations. Unlike last year, when it was the staff officers or deputy heads of the operations divisions who assumed field command, higher ranked commanders are supervising efforts this year. This indicates how seriously North Korea regards the recovery efforts.

Some of the units mobilized for the effort are living in tents erected onsite, engaging in all-night recovery operations. Other units, however, come to the site in the morning and leave in the evening, reportedly bringing their own mobile meal trucks.

The source said soldiers used to eating soggy noodles welcome the rice mixed with corn they have been eating since their deployment to recovery operations. In fact, he said some of the soldiers “even express a wish that operations [outside their bases] could continue.”

Rodong Sinmun reported on Sept. 6, 2020, that Kim Jong Un had visited storm-ravaged areas of South Hamgyong Province. / Image: Rodong Sinmun

“If locals learn of the pathetic food situation soldiers face, it would damage the image of the People’s Army, and there are battles of pride and competition between rear-area troops, so the troops that get deployed are receiving much better food,” said the source. “Soldiers used to eating food without even a drop of oil are now eating soup and side dishes full of oil, which they enjoy very much.”

Meanwhile, Pyongyang is reportedly providing 50% of the supplies needed for recovery efforts, while South Hamgyong Province is providing the remaining 50%. However, with the provincial government unable to provide all the supplies on its own, it is tasking local party, government and military organizations as well as local residents with gathering supplies.

“The Central Committee even ordered [local authorities] not to place additional burdens on residents, but in fact, they are telling army units, inminban [people’s units] and workplaces to provide supplies, either on their own or by getting them from someone else,” said the source. “They’ve split up [sourcing] the nails, staple iron, wood, cement, sand, shovels and gloves based on a personal contract system.”

“Only those directly harmed in the rains have been exempted, and all provincial party officials are participating [in the recovery efforts]. They have to give money if they have nothing to give, or provide alternative materials with approval from their organization,” said the source. “It’s an additional financial burden, but the leadership is saying you’re all provincial residents and all one family and that you should support one another. So locals can’t openly call it an additional burden.”

The source explained that relief supplies are arriving from Pyongyang. In fact, in a front page article on Monday, Rodong Sinmun reported that trains laden with cement for recovery efforts were arriving in the affected areas. It ran a related photo as well.

On Tuesday, the paper reported that the provincial branch of the ruling party was making organizational efforts for reconstruction, writing that the South Hamgyong Provincial Party Military Commission convened at the disaster site in Sinhung County on Aug. 5 and Aug. 8 to discuss issues related to reconstruction.

The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) also reported Tuesday that “[s]tate emergency measures are taken to eradicate the aftermath of flood and heavy rain as soon as possible in the DPRK,” adding that the “central team for guiding the project for recovery from flood damage is staffed by officials of the Cabinet, ministries and national institutions.”

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Ha Yoon Ah is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.