SEOUL -- North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has pledged to quickly restore flood-devastated areas of the country, fearing that a slow disaster-recovery in a nation already battered by sanctions and border closure with China could fan public discontent.
Rainfall this summer has equaled 88% of the country's typical yearly total, the second-highest level in the past quarter century, according to the state Korean Central News Agency, causing widespread damage to farmland.
Adding to the devastation, typhoon Maysak inundated the Korean Peninsula on Sept. 3, killing dozens of people in North Korea and destroying over 2,000 homes.
Pyongyang's swift response to the typhoon speaks volumes about the sense of urgency felt by the North Korean leadership. In a highly unusual move, the government sent a letter on Sept. 5 to party members in Pyongyang, exhorting them to support restoration of ravaged areas. About 12,000 members were sent to the affected regions.
North Korean media reported that Kim toured flood-battered North Hwanghae Province, one of the country's largest grain producers, on Saturday and Tuesday. He has visited the area four times since August, which suggests growing concerns about the food supply.
Kim praised the restoration work and pledged to devote the nation's resources to "protect people's happiness." He donated his own food reserve to affected people, and North Korea has received 50,000 tons of wheat flour from Russia since May.
The aim is to complete the reconstruction before the Oct. 10 anniversary of the founding of the Workers' Party. Plans for the party's 75th anniversary include a massive military parade.
But other projects likely will fall victim to the repair efforts, such as construction of a hospital in Pyongyang and a resort in the eastern coastal city of Wonsan.
"Due to typhoon damage, we must hold off on some issues and change our course," Kim told a party meeting on Sept. 8.
South Korea's Ministry of Unification has described North Korea as confronting a "triple whammy."
Beyond the flooding and the U.S.-led international sanctions targeting Kim's regime, North Korea has lost foreign cash due to the closure of its border with China as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Trade between North Korea and China tumbled 67% on the year between January and June, the Unification Ministry said.
North Korean leadership acknowledged falling behind its five-year economic goals at a party meeting in late August. The regime appears to be focused on restoration efforts to maintain order.
Kim is feeling the tremendous weight of governing the isolationist nation, the South's spy agency contends. The leader reportedly has delegated some authority to his sister, Kim Yo Jong, and other aides.
Observers say North Korea is focusing on domestic affairs and will avoid provoking Washington as Pyongyang waits for the U.S. presidential election in November and prepares for the Workers' Party congress in January, the first such gathering in about five years.
North Korea shows no immediate sign of launching any ballistic missiles, Gen. Robert Abrams, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, said on Sept. 10.