Tropical Storm Khanun made landfall earlier this month in the North, a country where natural disasters can be devastating due to weak infrastructure and widespread deforestation, which increases vulnerability to flooding.
A damaged embankment and inadequate drainage system resulted in seawater flooding more than 560 hectares (about 1,400 acres) of land, including key rice paddies, according to Pyongyang’s state media.
Images in state media showed Kim standing knee-deep in a flooded paddy field in the area in Nampho, with a report in the official Korean Central News Agency saying he “seriously blamed” top officials for their “very irresponsible neglect of duties.”
Kim said the recent damage was “not a calamity caused by natural disasters but a human disaster by irresponsibility … of the loafers,” KCNA said.
The leader particularly singled out Premier Kim Tok Hun for failing to prevent the damage.
“The premier looked round the site once or twice with the attitude of an onlooker,” the report said.
In recent years, KCNA added, “the administrative and economic discipline of the Kim Tok Hun Cabinet has got out of order more seriously”, and that they were “spoiling all the state economic work”.
Kim also gave orders “to ferret out the responsible organs and the persons concerned and … sternly punish them,” KCNA said.
In the state media images, Kim can be seen giving instructions to officials who were also standing in the flooded field.
The officials looked sombre as some of them appeared to be dutifully taking notes of his orders.
But Kim last week praised his military for their patriotism as they helped salvage the crops in typhoon-stricken farms in Kangwon Province.
The premier “left the recovery work almost to the army, organising it in a poor way,” leader Kim said, according to KCNA.
Given Pyongyang’s strong rhetoric, a “significant overhaul of the North’s cabinet appears inevitable,” Cheong Seong-chang of the Center for North Korea Studies at the Sejong Institute told AFP.
The UN Security Council last week accused Pyongyang of spending heavily on its nuclear arms programme while its people go hungry and lack basic necessities.
The impoverished North has periodically been hit by famine, with hundreds of thousands of people dying — estimates range into the millions — in the mid-1990s.
Seoul’s spy agency said last week people were starving in the North, with the country’s economy trapped in a “vicious cycle” with negative growth for three years from 2020 to 2022.
The North’s domestic product experienced a significant drop of 12 percent in 2022 compared to 2016, the agency told lawmakers during a briefing, according to lawmaker Yoo Sang-bum.
Pyongyang held a high-level party meeting in February to specifically address food shortages and agricultural problems.
The latest KCNA report on premier Kim shows signs that North Korea’s food shortage has worsened, said An Chan-il, a defector-turned-researcher who runs the World Institute for North Korea Studies.
“It is necessary to make someone a scapegoat to quell the wrath of the starving people,” An told AFP, adding the premier is likely to be sacked from his position soon, or even face punishment.
The North on Tuesday informed Japan it plans to launch a satellite in the coming days, prompting condemnation from Tokyo and Seoul and demands to call it off.