By Mirva Helenius, IFRC

Earlier this month, the President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Mr Tadateru Konoé, concluded a ten-day visit to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

The main focus of the President’ trip was to visit areas of North Hamgyong Province that were affected by severe floods in late August. Here, he witnessed ongoing reconstruction efforts and some of the challenges faced by families who were directly affected by the floods.

During his mission to DPRK, Mr Konoé also visited some longer term development projects run by the DPRK Red Cross in Usan County. Established in 2014 with the support of IFRC, the integrated disaster risk reduction programme involves 500 local volunteers in a variety of community-led, sustainable interventions that are strengthening the underlying resilience of the local community.

Usan County was originally selected as a project site due to its high levels of vulnerability. The area is prone to seasonal flooding when the local river bursts its banks causing major disruption in the lives of local people. The DPRK Red Cross has been improving local disaster preparedness through early warning systems, such as simple water level markers, which are used to alert the community when the river is reaching danger levels. The community has also been actively involved in disaster mitigation projects, such as reinforcing river banks and planting of trees on surrounding hillsides to help counteract the impacts of deforestation, minimize the risk of landslides and prevent soil erosion.

Mr Konoé also saw how the construction of a series of greenhouses has led to major improvements in local livelihoods and food security. High-value vegetables are grown throughout the year together with mushrooms in adjacent buildings. This produce is distributed to vulnerable families in the community and some is also sold to support the running costs of the project. The greenhouses use sustainable practices which include pig-rearing. Manure produced by the pigs is used to produce biogas which provides lighting and heat during the winter months.

Building community resilience also means improving and safeguarding the health of the local population. The Red Cross has made improvements to water supply and sanitation in Usan by building safe water supply facilities. Instead of fetching water from the river or shallow wells, over 10,000 households now have running water piped into their homes which has led to a significant reduction in the incidence of waterborne diseases.

“This programme exemplifies how the Red Cross has empowered local communities to overcome some of the humanitarian challenges they face. With a bit of support they have created sustainable approaches towards building their own resilience on many levels,” said Mr Konoé.

Watch a video about the DPRK Red Cross integrated programme: