Description of the disaster
An emergency situation was declared by the DPRK Government on 2 August 2018 because of unusually hot weather. On the same day, DPRK RCS officially informed IFRC of a developing slow onset emergency in both South Phyongan and South Hamgyong Provinces due to a heat wave affecting the Korean Peninsula that has also severely affected the routine of people’s livelihood, agricultural activities and crops. The heat wave, starting as early as 11 July 2018, had brought on record temperatures as high as 40℃ across the country, and deaths from the heat wave had been reported. The heat wave had also seriously affected the main agricultural producers in the southern provinces of the country.
It was reported that this heat wave had been caused by the presence of two lingering high-pressure weather systems that had trapped warm and humid air above the region, affecting other countries in the region, i.e. Japan and South Korea with reported hospital admissions, including deaths of human and livestock.
While there were no deaths (due to the heatwave) officially reported in DPRK, the scenario that had occurred in the two neighboring countries mentioned indicated a likelihood of some loss of lives in DPRK, where conventional interventions like the provision of air-conditioners or mobile cooling units were not possible due to an unstable electrical grid, and the lack of supporting infrastructure. The absence of these interventions increased the vulnerability of the population but had been mitigated by the deployment of family tents where farmers might retreat to have some respite from the heat.
Emergency Plan of Action Final Report DPR Korea: Heat WavePeople’s lifestyles had been altered due to the heat wave and farmers had changed their working times to the early morning and late afternoon hours to avoid heat exhaustion or worse, heat stroke. This change had also been applied to farmers’ markets that opened in the late afternoon instead of the usual early afternoon.
With few other options to intervene with existing resources in-country, the focus by DPRK RCS and the Government of DPRK was to concentrate on preserving the crops that were due for harvest in September. Any threat to food security would have a serious effect on an already stressed population in terms of food availability and the risk of increased malnutrition which would affect the most vulnerable sectors of the affected population – children, pregnant and lactating women, the elderly and those with underlying illnesses.
Initial reports indicated crop damage synonymous with the occurrences of the dry spells in 2014 and 2017.
In 2014, a dry spell that persisted for over 18 months caused drought, affecting agricultural production and access to water, and left 18 million public distribution system (PDS) dependents at risk of food insecurity, malnutrition and illness. In June 2017, the Government declared a national emergency following a dry spell that affected key food producing provinces in the south-west of the country. The 2017 dry spell stressed the early season crops and constrained planting and early growth of main season crops. The Government mobilized communities and resources to provide irrigation, to reduce any impact from the dry spell. Humanitarian partners like European Unit Projects (EUPs) and UN agencies also provided support to the responses. Despite these efforts, total food production (in cereal equivalent) in 2017 was 5.45 MT, a 7.42 per cent decrease from the previous year’s 5.89 MT. This meant that there was an urgent need to deploy irrigation equipment that would facilitate and sustain agricultural activities to reduce crop failure due to the heat wave.
Without water, there would be no food for subsistence farmers, and the lives of these vulnerable communities would be threatened as was in 2017 when the dry spell compounded the undernutrition situation, putting at risk the lives of 782,000 children under five and 313,629 pregnant and lactating women.