North Korea says floods caused massive crop losses

By Simon Martin, SEOUL, AFP

North Korea, already dependent on foreign aid to feed its people, said Wednesday that devastating floods have washed away more than a tenth of its annual grain harvest.

Aid agencies said up to 300,000 people were believed hit by the worst floods in a decade, which would worsen already severe food shortages in the impoverished communist nation.

Official media has said torrential rains from August 7-12 caused “huge human and material damage.”

The North has reported hundreds dead or missing and more than 30,000 houses for over 63,300 families destroyed, along with at least 800 public buildings and more than 540 bridges and sections of railway.

“Unprecedented torrential rains … are throwing a shadow over prospects for agricultural production,” agriculture ministry director Ri Jae-hyon said in a statement carried by the Korean Central News Agency.

As of Tuesday more than 11 percent of rice and maize fields nationwide had been submerged, buried or washed away, he added, along with 200 pumping stations.

More than 2,000 breaches were reported in waterways and riverbanks.

“This is a significant emergency crisis,” said Paul Risley, regional spokesman for the U.N.’s World Food Program, which currently feeds 750,000 North Koreans, with plans to expand this to 1.9 million by next month.

“It is possible the floods affected 200,000 to 300,000 individuals.”

Risley said a WFP staffer and other U.N. officials travelled Tuesday to a region north of the capital Pyongyang after the North made a preliminary request for assistance.

“There were indications of widespread damage and the dislocation of several communities, and clear evidence of the need for emergency food assistance and probable long-term food assistance,” he said by telephone from Bangkok.

“The chief concern is to begin distribution of emergency food and then get a sense of how much farmland is lost.”