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Red Cross tackles disasters in North Korea

1 November 2013

Flooding and landslides in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) – also known as North Korea – have left the country unable to produce enough food to feed its 24 million population.

The British Red Cross – through the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies – is helping vulnerable communities reduce the impact of these natural disasters, improve water and sanitation, and improve volunteer management within the DPRK Red Cross.

Sir Nicholas Young, British Red Cross chief executive, visited the DPRK recently. He said: “Quite apart from its political isolation, the country is disaster-prone, extremely poor, and unable to afford its own health system. The needs are immense.”

A devastating cycle

The country’s rigid self-reliance – combined with political tensions around its nuclear ambitions – keeps its citizens isolated from the international community. This self-reliance extends to its people, who must produce their own food if they are to eat – but recurrent floods and landslides have continually destroyed crops, making this impossible for many.

Razmi Farook, British Red Cross east and south-east Asia representative, said: “Not much land in the DPRK is suitable for farming. In an attempt to cultivate more land for food production, the country has seen large scale deforestation over the last decade. But this scarcity of trees during the rainy season results in landslides and floods.

“The Federation, with support from the British Red Cross, is organising large-scale tree planting projects. Trees help structure the soil, absorb water and limit the damage of excessive rainfall. We will also be training people on how to increase seed production to help them grow more food.”

Disasters and malnutrition

Last year, severe flooding forced more than 241,000 people from their homes and destroyed 121,998 hectares of farmland. As a result, the country faces an annual deficit of more than one million tonnes of food, while more than 16 million people are suffering from malnutrition.

Kim Hed Un is one of many people who have repeatedly experienced natural disasters. The 15-year-old recalls: “The floods came twice. The first time we lived in the mountains and the walls of our house fell down as a landslide came crashing in. We then moved to the village, but flooding caused our new house to fill with water.”

Having seen the Red Cross planting projects first-hand, Kim is contributing to the reforestation of her country: “It is important to plant trees to prevent future landslides and floods, as well as cultivate fruit trees that will provide more food for the village. Living in the city would probably be easier – but I would rather stay in the countryside and make life better for people here.”

Sir Nicholas Young said: “With the combined efforts of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and the enthusiasm of the DPRK Red Cross volunteer leaders, I'm confident the country can begin to reduce the impact of natural disasters on its people and pave the way for improvements in crop production.”

Find out more about our work in DPRK