DPR Korea: Primary Emergency Aid for the victims of the train explosion on April 22nd 2004

Location of operation: DPR KOREA
Amount of decision: Euro 200,000
Decision reference number: ECHO/PRK/BUD/2004/02000

Explanatory Memorandum

1 - Rationale, needs and target population:

1.1. - Rationale:

On 22 April 2004 at 04:00 local time an explosion occurred in the railway station of Ryonchong, in the North-West of DPR Korea near to the border to China. The blast was initially thought to have been caused by two trains colliding, but North Korean government sources have now been quoted as saying it was triggered when two train carriages carrying dynamite came into contact with a live power cable. South Korean media reports initially talked of up to 3,000 people dead or wounded. However all these reports are not yet confirmed. In any case, the casualty figures of 54 dead and 1200 injured have already been admitted by 23:00, 23 April (local time), but it is expected that a much higher number of casualties, in the thousands, will be found later on. According to reports from the local DPR Korean Red Cross, the explosion in the railway station of the city with 130,000 inhabitants has destroyed 1,850 houses and damaged another 6,300. A state of emergency has been declared by the authorities and they have issued an appeal for international aid.

This catastrophe has taken place in a country with little disaster preparedness and with a very weak infrastructure. Only the DPR Korean Red Cross is organized as a network of 13 provincial/municipality chapters and 200 city/county branches, covering the whole territory of the country. The national society has a nationwide network of 330,000 volunteers and 371,730 Red Cross youth at the community level.

The health sector in DPRK is desperately overstretched and wholly under funded and thus unable to provide even the most essential services to its population. The supply of basic drugs is totally dependent on international aid and the needs of particular vulnerable groups like handicapped and older people are very much neglected. Most hospitals and clinics - and other public service infrastructure - were constructed, some 40-50 years ago and have hardly been maintained since they were built. Today, most hospitals and clinics have irregular electricity, usually with power available for only a few hours per day, and few health facilities have running water. Sterilization of instruments, lighting for operations and heating of hospitals during the harsh winter season remains severe problems.

No more detailed information has been obtained from the DPR Korean authorities. This must also be seen in the context of the limited access of information by aid agencies in general. However an inter-agency-assessment will be carried out by on 24 April.