Sim Hye Sun can still remember the torrential rains and the sudden warning from loudspeakers, telling everyone to leave their homes and run to higher ground. “We had to run with only the clothes we were wearing. When we returned two days later, everything was gone,” she says.
Floods in North Hamyong Province, DPR Korea, have had a devastating impact on families like Hye Sun’s. Nearly 70,000 people are homeless and another 600,000 people are in need of help because of the floods, which have so far killed more than 130 people.
Hye Sun’s family, including her two year old daughter Yun Ok (name changed), have lost their home and all of their possessions. In fact, little remains of their community; the floods have washed everything away.
“Since the flood we’ve stayed here,” she tells me, pointing at a flimsy plastic tent. Their only possessions now are a few metal bowls, a thin mattress with two blankets and some water purification tablets. “The nights here, they’re cold,” she says. “We all huddle together to keep warm.”
Danger for children
I met Hye Sun at a temporary clinic set up near where she and other families are camped. The doctors tell me that the original clinic, and all the equipment and medicines, was completely destroyed. In response, UNICEF provided a tent and medical supplies to help get a new clinic set-up as soon as possible to help protect children and parents.
Hye Sun says her daughter is running a mild fever, has an upset stomach and is coughing. The doctor weighs and measures Yun Ok and says she is a malnourished – an increasing problem after the floods with food and water in short supply.
The doctor then gives Hye Sun packets of oral rehydration powder, Plumpynut – a nutrition supplement supplied by UNICEF – and advises her on the importance of using safe water to prevent diarrhoea.
“We’ve seen a ten-fold increase in the number of sick people coming to the clinic,” the doctor tells me. “A lot of children are coming with diarrhoeal and respiratory infections, which can be deadly if not treated and managed properly.”
With a cold winter just around the corner, people fear things might continue to worsen. “With the weather getting colder, we can expect to see illnesses increasing,” says the doctor. “I’m grateful for the medical supplies UNICEF has delivered so far.”
It’s a race against the advancing winter to provide for the basic needs like food, shelter, clothing and essential life saving medicines for Hye Sun and so many others like her whose lives have been in turmoil since the floods.