14 year old Kim Jong Bok’s life was tragically turned upside down following heavy floods in northern DPR Korea. “She lost her parents during the floods. They’re dead,” I was told by a woman standing beside her. “11 other people from her community were killed as well,” she said sadly as Bok shyly looked to the ground.
The flood in North Hamgyong province of DPR Korea is the most severe natural disaster people here have ever experienced. In Musan County alone 73 people have died, of which 40 are children. 180 children are still missing.
All around me I saw hundreds of people shovelling mounds of mud left by the flood waters that swept through towns and villages, destroying everything in its path and claiming lives. Among the women stood Bok, the only child here, focused on the task at hand.
Bok wanted to be outside, it helped take her mind off the awful tragedy she had just experienced. “I’m here to try and help,” she told me quietly. It was striking how everyone was watching over and caring for her, fully aware of what she had just experienced.
Thousands of homes, as well as schools and health facilities, have been washed away. The county’s water station, which provides water for 70,000 people, no longer works. 43,000 children and their families are using unsafe water from the river and open wells.
It could hardly be more serious and many people, including children like young Bok, are determined to help. But they need support.
“We’re seeing an increase in the number of children suffering from diarrhoea and malnutrition,” a local health official told me. “The contaminated flood waters pose a huge threat to public health. Children’s health will continue to be severely affected if the water supply systems are not restored quickly.”
UNICEF is working with the local authorities and the Government to protect children and their families. Emergency supplies of water purification tablets, filters, essential medicines and medical equipment, oral rehydration salts, pump repair parts, pipes and more are being sent.
But the scale of the disaster I have witnessed shows how much more we have to do, not least for children like Kim Jong Bok.
Oyunsaihan Dendevnorov is UNICEF Representative in DPR Korea