Call For Urgent Aid Amid Floods

The UN says more food shortages are likely after heavy rains batter North Korea.
2012-08-02
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Residents take refuge from floods in Anju city, July 30, 2012.
AFP PHOTO / KCNA via KNS

The United Nations on Thursday called for urgent food aid for North Korea, where already chronic shortages are likely to worsen after heavy rains and a typhoon left more than 100 dead and destroyed tens of thousands of acres of crops, according to state media.

The official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported 119 people dead, more than 84,000 homeless, and around 46,000 hectares (113,670 acres) of crops destroyed in torrential rain and flooding since July 18.

The agency reported Wednesday that “downpours swept some east and west coastal areas of [North Korea] on July 29-30, leaving 31 people dead and 16 missing.”

The toll added to that from an earlier report which counted 88 deaths and thousands left homeless after flooding between July 18-29.

The heavy storms and rainfall prompted the United Nations’ Resident Coordinator’s Office (RCO) in Pyongyang to call for “immediate food assistance” for people in Anju city and Songchon county in South Pyongan province and Chonnae county in Kangwon province—the hardest hit areas, according to the North Korean government.

“Immediate food assistance is required for the people in those counties most affected by the flood,” the RCO said.

“Although flood damages have been observed in maize, soy bean, and rice fields, it is difficult to quantify the possible yield losses at this juncture.”

The RCO said that crop production would be assessed in September and October.

It said that flooding had also significantly affected water supply systems, dug wells, and hand pumps in the areas, and that access to clean water and health care remained high priorities to avoid the outbreak of disease.

The RCO said that Red Cross groups had distributed relief items including tarpaulins, quilts, cooking sets, jerry cans, hygiene kits, and water purification tablets to more than 6,600 families in 16 affected counties as of July 31.

It said that the North Korean government on July 30 had requested that the U.N. Country Team release prepositioned emergency stocks to support ongoing relief and recovery efforts in the affected counties and that an interagency assessment mission, involving the U.N. and various aid agencies, was carried out the next day.

Progress hampered

Agence-France Presse quoted International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC) regional spokesman Francis Markus as saying Wednesday that the IFRC and Red Crescent Societies had allocated nearly U.S. $308,000 to cover the cost of immediate help for some 2,500 families affected by the recent floods and storms.

"In one community, about half of the houses were either destroyed or damaged," Markus said, adding that victims badly need drinking water, food, and medical assistance.

He said that landslides that had resulted from the rains stemmed from severe deforestation the IFRC was trying to correct through a years-old program which has annually planted millions of seedlings in the country.

The KCNA also reported that several mines were damaged in the floods, which carried away tens of thousands of tons of coal and equipment. North Korea relies on coal as its primary energy source.

The severe flooding could seriously hamper efforts to boost North Korea’s long-stagnant economy by leader Kim Jong Un, who inherited a wealth of problems after taking power seven months ago following the death of his father, Kim Jong Il.

Hundreds of thousands of North Koreans died during a famine in the 1990s and the nation has faced major food shortages owing to a number of severe floods and droughts since then.

The U.N. said last autumn that some three million people would require food aid in North Korea this year, even before July’s floods.

It said in a recent report that more than one-quarter of the country’s 24 million population is “chronic poor” and that malnutrition had left one-third of its children stunted.

Reported by Joshua Lipes.