Mennonite Central Committee’s partners in North Korea are providing assistance for hundreds of thousands of people affected by flooding and landslides in the isolated country.
Heavy rains Aug. 28-Sept. 2 from Typhoon Lionrock caused flooding and landslides in six counties of Hamgyong province. According to the United Nations, 138 people were killed, more than 100,000 displaced and 600,000 were in need of assistance.
In the mid-1990s, people of the region suffered from serious flooding, which destroyed crops and large tracts of farmland, contributing to a famine. Regular flooding since then exacerbated the problem.
Last year, MCC sent nine shipments of material resources to partners in North Korea, including 3,470 blankets, 4,686 school kits, 261,240 pounds of canned meat, 2,124 hygiene kits, 1,232 pounds of soap and 714 relief kits.
MCC’s partnerships in the country meant hundreds of people received relief kits and food shortly after the flooding took place.
But the need is still immense, especially in the winter.
One of MCC’s partners in the region, the Canadian organization First Steps, visited the affected areas along the Chinese border to survey the damage and deliver relief assistance.
Turned into a sea
In Yonsa County, Bong-Suk Shin, 65, and her grandson Kum-Hyok Kim, 11, dug through the ruins of their home, looking for any possessions to salvage.
“Everything turned into a sea for three days,” Shin recalled.
Shin and Kim lost all their personal keepsakes and household belongings, including kimchi pots used to store the staple winter food. In their county alone, 81 are dead or missing and, of a population of about 40,000 people, 27,308 are homeless.
Susan Ritchie, the executive director of First Steps, was part of the group who visited the region in October. She was startled by the immensity of the damage.
“We traveled in a big circle, driving for a full day and most of the night,” she said. “In that journey, all we saw was devastation.”
Many homes, schools, clinics, bridges, roads and rail lines were damaged or destroyed. But among this devastation, Ritchie saw signs of hope.
“Everywhere we went we saw people who were affected by the flood as well as people who had been mobilized from all over the country to work to rebuild their homes,” she said. “There were people of all ages gathering stones, which I assume will be used in construction. People are working hard to try to get their lives back on track.”
MCC’s partner, the U.S. organization Christian Friends of Korea, distributed 500 MCC relief kits and 110 school kits to respond to the flooding in Musan and Yonsa counties in September.
In addition, MCC, through First Steps, will purchase 6,060 square meters of corrugated steel roofing for rebuilding damaged daycares, kindergartens and clinics in Yonsa. About 4,200 children will benefit.
“Thanks to MCC, children in Yonsa will have a safe place to study and play where they will be shielded from the cold, allowing more family members to focus on rebuilding the community,” Ritchie said.
Read more about Mennonite Central Committee’s work in North Korea in the Jan. 16, 2017 issue of Mennonite World Review.