North Korea Floods and Storms Destroy Mines, Kill 31 More

North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un
Kim Jong Un, North Korean leader, center, accompanied by a young woman. Source: KNS/AFP/Getty Images

North Korea said 31 people were killed in landslides and lightning during heavy rains and flooding, in addition to the 88 killed in a typhoon that hit the nation two weeks ago.

Heavy rains on July 29 and 30 destroyed or damaged more than 4,900 homes and flooded 8,530 others, leaving 21,370 people homeless, the official Korean Central News Agency said yesterday. More than 179,000 tons of coal were washed away, and scores of pits were inundated at coal mines northeast of Pyongyang, the capital, KCNA said in a separate report.

Flooding threatens the impoverished nation’s ability to export its underground minerals, one of the few legitimate ways for the totalitarian regime to earn foreign currency. The communist nation, now ruled by Kim Jong Un, has suffered for decades from chronic food shortages, economic mismanagement, and growing isolation from the international community due to its nuclear weapons and missile programs and support for international terrorism.

United Nations staff members based in North Korea made two July 31 visits with the Red Cross and other NGOs to two storm-struck counties to investigate and assess damage and needs, said Christopher de Bono, Unicef’s chief of communications for East Asia and the Pacific, in an e-mail.

The visits were made at the request of the North Korean government, according to a July 30 statement on the website of the UN’s North Korea office. The UN expanded sanctions against the North after it conducted an April 13 long-range missile test.

Lost Deal

The test also cost Kim a deal with the U.S. for 240,000 metric tons of food that were promised in exchange for a moratorium on nuclear and missile tests.

North Korea’s rainy season began on July 18 as Typhoon Khanun struck the Korean peninsula, hitting northwestern coastal areas the hardest. Torrential rains and flooding between July 18 and 24 inundated, destroyed and washed away tens of thousands of homes, roads, farmland and embankments. The monsoon season set in after the country’s worst drought in a century threatened wheat, barley and potato harvests.

About 16 million of North Korea’s 24 million people suffer from chronic food insecurity, high malnutrition rates, and deep-rooted economic challenges, Jerome Sauvage, the UN resident coordinator in Pyongyang, said in a June 12 statement. As many as 2 million people have starved to death since the mid-1990s.

Now the storm damage to North Korea’s mining facilities threatens to do additional economic harm. Last year, according to a June 1 report by the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency in Seoul, the North exported $1.2 billion of minerals, 97 percent of which went to China, North Korea’s biggest trade partner, ally and mineral importer. North Korea doesn’t report economic statistics.

Mineral Riches

The North’s mineral reserves, believed to be valued at more than $6 trillion, according to South Korean state-owned mining company Korea Resources Corp., have made it a magnet for Chinese enterprises.

Aside from its main exports of coal and copper, the country also has oil, potash, iron ore and uranium, as well as rare earths used in electronics, wind turbines and precision-guided munitions.

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