North Korea’s 2020 floods in perspective

By: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

By all accounts, North Korea has been badly hit, with severe damage all over the country, from the typhoons sweeping the region over the past few weeks. Though Kim Jong-un reportedly concluded that the damage to crops was not as bad as feared – fantastic news if true. The situation is still developing, however, and today (Thursday September 3rd), typhoon Maysak was expected to hit the northeastern coast of the country around noon.

In other words, it is much to soon to draw any firm conclusions about the overall damage. Still, it is worth noting that at least so far, it appears to be smaller than only a few years ago. One person I spoke to, with direct experience of disaster relief management in North  Korea, partially attributed this to early warnings. North Korean TV has been reporting live about the floods, and Kim Jong-un convened emergency meetings to prepare for the oncoming floods. The extent of information from the government seems much wider now than in some past years.

Take, for example, the impact in the northeastern regions and Rason in particular. Countless buildings were razed to the ground and KCNA reported that 40 people died in Rason alone, though one Daily NK source dismissed that as unrealistically low. This year’s flooding seems to be much worse quantitatively speaking, and yet, so far, news media reported “only” 22 deaths. Each is of course tragic, but it is interesting that the death toll, at least so far (and I cannot caution this enough) seems to be lower even with the force of the typhoons being stronger. For reference, in Rason in 2015, rain levels reached 160mm, while now, Wonsan city has been submerged with 200mm.

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