The disaster adds to an already troubled humanitarian situation in North Korea, whose weak economy has been further affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
The official Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) said at least 16,680 houses and 630 public buildings had been destroyed or flooded during the monsoon, with nearly 100,000 acres of crops damaged and many roads, bridges, railroad tracks destroyed. A dam at a power plant also provided space, it says.
The floodwaters approached the Yongbyon nuclear complex and reached the bases of two pump houses designed to cool the country̵
The floodwaters have disappeared somewhat and pose “no imminent danger” as the main reactor does not appear to have been operating for some time and a nearby experimental light water reactor has not yet come online, said Jenny Town, Deputy CEO of 38 Nord, part of Stimson Center.
“In the long run, however, it exposes a vulnerability of the reactors to extreme weather events such as floods,” she wrote in an email, noting that North Korea has been working to build a dam and dam along the Kuryong River to provide better protection. .
“But this year the river level is usually high,” she added. “If this were to happen while a reactor was running, it could cause problems in the cooling systems, which would require the reactors to shut down.”
The floods have damaged the entire Korean Peninsula. In South Korea, weeks of rain have left 42 people dead or missing and more than 7,800 displaced, according to official estimates quoted by the Yonhap News Agency. Preliminary warnings of heavy rain were issued Friday to six cities and provinces, including Seoul, with more than 12 inches of rain forecast for some areas, KBS reported.
In the north, however, Kim says he does not want outside help because of the risk of coronavirus.
Kim told a Politburo meeting that the situation had created major difficulties, with many people living in temporary housing, and called on the Labor Party to “share the pain with them and free them from their suffering.”
But he said it must not undermine the fight against the pandemic.
“The situation where the spread of the worldwide malignant virus has worsened requires that we do not allow any outside help for flood damage, but close the border closer and carry out strictly anti-epidemic work,” Kim was quoted as saying by the KCNA.
Out of the potential impact of a coronavirus outbreak on the country’s poorly equipped healthcare sector, North Korea moved quickly to close its borders in January. The country says it has not had any confirmed cases of the virus, a claim that some experts doubt.
Benjamin Silberstein, a non-resident guy at the Stimson Center and a close observer of North Korea’s economy, said the country was used to dealing with floods every year, but this came at a difficult time and the state’s paranoia about the virus risked create a bad situation worse.
“The state is under considerable economic stress and these floods are coming at a time when the stability of the food situation is already in doubt,” he said in an email.
“Kim’s warning against accepting flood relief from abroad is very worrying and only makes sense if you consider how poorly equipped North Korea is to screen for and monitor viral infections.”
Meanwhile, the DPRK Red Cross is helping 2,800 families affected by the floods, providing tents, tarpaulins and other items such as kitchen utensils, water purification tablets and duvets while continuing anti-epidemic work, according to Antony Balmain, Asia / Pacific Communications Director for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
“DPRK Red Cross relief is already in the country, pre-located in warehouses in various areas,” he added.