Late August’s floods in North Hamgyong, DPR Korea tore the lives and homes of thousands of families apart. Flash floods washed away entire towns, buried schools under mud and destroyed water stations. Choe Un Sim was one of the many people who saw her house washed away and thought it was the end.
“My family lost everything,” she says in a newly built health clinic. “I didn’t know how we’d live in the future, all of our possessions were gone. I had nothing in my hand and no food for my child.”
For her 4-year-old boy, Min Song Ju, the impacts of the flood were soon being felt. “We didn’t have much food and clean water was hard to come by,” she says. “He got very sick, to the point where he couldn’t walk. The same happened to other children in the village.”
Around 45,000 children were affected by the floods and the rates of malnutrition and other related illnesses have been quickly rising. Without healthy food and clean water, children are among the first to feel the effects of an emergency. Without assistance thousands of lives would be at risk.
Fortunately, UNICEF staff were quickly on hand to support the government by delivering lifesaving supplies to directly help children like Min Song Ju.
“When he started getting sick I took him to a health clinic,” says Choe Un Sim, bouncing her now happy and healthy son on her knee. “They told me he was severely malnourished. We were given Plumpy-Nut to feed him four times a day. As you can see, after nearly five weeks of treatment he’s doing really well.”
While she was talking young Min Song Ju spied a box of Plumpy-Nut sachets in the clinic, a paste full of all the healthy essentials to help get malnourished children back to health. As he started reaching over for the box, Choe Un Sim and the health staff started laughing. “He really likes it now, he wants it all the time.”
UNICEF has so far delivered lifesaving supplies that have helped treat around 6,000 malnourished children, provided nearly 30,000 items of warm clothing for the cold winter ahead as well as water purification tablets for 91,000 people.
Choe Un Sim looked outside to see snow once again falling. “UNICEF also gave us warm clothes for him. I’m really, really happy – we’re being well looked after.”
Back on track
Ri Hyang Sim was a few months pregnant when her home was washed away. “It was a nightmare. I was tired, I was hungry,” she says standing in her newly built home provided by the government. “We just didn’t know what to do.”
UNICEF also provided support for around 11,000 pregnant women with access to antenatal care, safe delivery services and life-saving immunizations, as well as tents for temporary clinics.
“I was soon told about a nearby clinic that was set-up and in the end I ended up visiting five times,” she says. “I was given micronutrient tablets and a tetanus vaccination. The doctors also monitor my condition to make sure the baby will be ok. It means a lot to me.”
The government has built nearly 12,000 new homes as well as new hospitals and schools in less than 2 months to ensure families have a warm, safe place to live while the harsh winter sets in.
“This was the most difficult thing that has ever happened to me and my family,” said Ri Hyang Sim’s 75-year-old mother. “But thanks to UNICEF’s help, and these beautiful new homes, I’m starting to feel safe again.”
Around 600,000 people in total were affected by the floods. While life is getting back on track, there is more to be done to help the thousands affected by the floods. UNICEF is appealing for $5 million to reach the remaining children and mothers with live saving interventions.
Meanwhile, back in the Kang An Ri health clinic, young Min Song Ju was still trying to grab the Plumpy-Nut. “I really like it!” he shouts, giggling.
UNICEF in 2017 is seeking funds for DPRK in it’s Humanitarian Action for Children appeal: https://www.unicef.org/appeals/dprk.html