How fast can you build 1,000 houses in North Korea?

By: Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

A couple of days ago, KCNA followed Kim Jong-un to Kimhwa county (in Kangwon province) for a flooding damage reconstruction inspection visit. It’s a standard activity with fairly standard reporting, but what caught my eye was the timespan the article speaks of (my emphasis):

Vividly recalling the day in the mid-August when a helicopter was used to learn about the situation of the disaster after over 900 mm disastrous downpour cut off even the roads and when he was shocked to hear the horrifying report that more than 1 000 dwelling houses were destroyed, he said that they all seem to have happened just yesterday.

Hearing the report that about 88 percent of the total construction project has now been done for nearly 1 000 families- several-storey dwelling houses in township area and single-storey dwelling houses in the ri of the county, he said with great satisfaction that the People’s Army is making world-startling achievements under the energetic leadership and meticulous guidance of our Party.

(Source: “Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un Inspects Sites of Reconstruction in Kimhwa County,” KCNA, 2/10/2020.)

So — flooding in mid-August. 1,000 dwelling houses swept away. Fast forward to early October, about a month and a half later, and 88 percent of these houses are now reconstructed?

Something sounds quite odd here, because that’s an awful lot of houses in a very short period of time. For a comparison, the average construction house in the US takes 7.7 months from construction start to finish.

I am by no means knowledgeable in engineering or housing construction, so if any readers can think of how this can all be squared, do please send an email.

What is possible is that many new houses have been built, but with speed rather than quality being the number one priority. Such houses would likely have a hard time withstanding future flooding, which will occur, because it does almost every year. Aid workers I spoke to for this article pointed to poor housing construction as one of the main causes for the high rates of material destruction and fatalities in flooding in North Korea.

That’s the thing about politically motivated deadlines and speed pressures — something has to give in the process, and often, it’s quality.

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