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NKorea floods may have hit up to 300,000

Devastating floods in NKorea could have affected up to 300,000 people and will further worsen food shortages in the impoverished state, says UN officials.

world Updated: Aug 15, 2007 10:31 IST

Devastating floods in North Korea could have affected up to 300,000 people and will further worsen food shortages in the impoverished state, UN officials said on Wednesday.

"This is a significant emergency crisis," Paul Risley, regional spokesman for the World Food Programme. "It is possible they affected 200,000-300,000 individuals."

Risley said a WFP staffer and other UN officials travelled on Tuesday to parts of a province 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 told AFP from Bangkok.

"Farmland itself has been wiped out. The chief concern is to begin distribution of emergency food and then get a sense of how much farmland is lost."

North Korea has admitted it faces a food shortfall this year of one million tonnes, or 20 per cent of its needs, even before the floods hit.

The nation suffered famine in the mid to late 1990s which killed hundreds of thousands, and still faces persistent serious food shortages despite aid from South Korea and the WFP.

Official media in the reclusive communist country has said the torrential rains beginning on August 7 caused "huge human and material damage."

As of August 12 they had left hundreds dead or missing and destroyed more than 30,000 houses for over 63,300 families, the Korean Central News Agency said early on Tuesday.

It said at least 800 public buildings, more than 540 bridges and sections of railway had been destroyed, with tens of thousands of hectares of farmland "inundated, buried under silt and washed away."

More than 500 high-voltage power towers collapsed, five large substations were inundated and more than 10 transformers damaged, the agency reported.

State television, in an unusual move, has broadcast scenes of residents in the showpiece capital wading waist-high through water.

The North has mobilised hundreds of thousands of people to shore up river banks and care for victims, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said.

It said the North's government and local authorities "are making every effort to prevent and mitigate the disaster's impact by mobilising several hundred thousands of people and heavy equipment."

Workers are struggling to reinforce the banks of rivers, irrigation canals and reservoirs while local People's Committees are working to find temporary shelters, food and clothing for survivors, it added.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon met on Tuesday with Pyongyang's ambassador to the United Nations, Pak Gil-yon, to assure him of the world body's help.

The United States and South Korea are also considering sending aid.

South Korean Deputy Unification Minister Seo Sung-Woo and the WFP have said this year's flooding seems more serious than last year.

Low-lying areas in central Pyongyang have been inundated and communications networks and subways badly damaged, Seo said Tuesday, but added it would not affect an inter-Korean summit there on August 28-30.

North Korea frequently reports severe damage during Korea's rainy season. Experts say decades of reckless deforestation, to provide fuel or to clear hillsides for planting, have stripped it of tree cover that provides natural protection from flooding.

Last year the IFRC said a storm in late October left 7,300 people homeless and injured 14. In July 2006, monsoon rains swept through much of the North, causing heavy human losses and property damage.

The federation said then that at least 100 people were dead or missing and more than 11,500 homes damaged or destroyed.