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Tuesday, 23 October, 2001, 07:30 GMT 08:30 UK
New food crisis for North Korea
Boy in a flooded paddy field
People have been trying to retrieve their damaged rice
By the BBC's Caroline Gluck in Kangwon Province, North Korea

Efforts are under way to bring relief to tens of thousands of people in the eastern coastal provinces of North Korea who have been hit by heavy flooding.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is rushing 1,850 tonnes of wheat to the worst-hit Kangwon province, where freak rains caused large-scale damage to crops, homes and infrastructure.

Man surveys destroyed home
Many people have been made homeless
The agency said an estimated 50,000 tonnes of unprocessed rice was destroyed by the floods.

Hundreds of villagers have gathered on a flooded rice field to salvage as much grain as they can.

Officials in Kangwon province - an area which already suffers food shortages - say the impact of the torrential rain and flooding has been devastating.

The normal recorded rainfall for October should be around 20mm. But in the worst-affected areas 400mm (18 inches) of rain fell in just 12 hours.

"It was the worst flooding we've had since records began in 1910," said Kim Song Hwan, head of the government's Flood Damage Rehabilitation Committee for the region.


On one of the many beaches along this area of Kangwon province a lot of the rice has been washed up onto the sand. Women and children have been going through the rice, trying to salvage anything they can.

But this rice has been in the water for about a week so it is unfit for human consumption.

Roads and infrastructure were also damaged
Roads and infrastructure were also damaged
In Tongchon, tractor driver and father-of-three Kim Dong Ho, surveyed what used to be his home. It was completely destroyed in the floods - along with nearly 30 other homes in the village.

The authorities have acted swiftly to try to repair the damage. New timber and roof slates are stacked up in piles, ready for re-construction work - before the winter sets in.

"The water rose higher than waist level, reaching our windows. It was like a big river rising around our home," said Kim Dong Ho.

It is a race against time to bring in emergency supplies to the region - including blankets and cooking utensils for the thousands who have lost their homes - before winter arrives. In just a few weeks, temperatures will drop to below zero.

In Wonsan, fresh water has to be trucked in from mountain areas because the city's water and sewerage system has collapsed. Antibiotics are also being distributed - with fears that water-borne diseases could rapidly spread.

Urgent appeal

Brendan McDonald, from the United Nations office for the co-ordination of humanitarian affairs, says conditions are already difficult - and in the longer term, there could be severe food problems.

Man trying to retrieve damaged crops
North Korea was already suffering food shortages
"In Kangwon province, they are a food deficit area and they estimate up to 50,000 hectares of paddy rice has been damaged," he said. "To put it in context, approximately one hectare will feed 23 people in a year.

"In terms of the paddy fields, it's estimated that perhaps 10% of that may be salvageable.

"Without international assistance, there'll probably not be enough food."

This natural disaster is just the latest to hit impoverished North Korea, which has been battered by serious flooding and drought for the past seven years. But the impact of the flooding - which triggered landslides - has been worsened because of serious deforestation.

The country suffers from chronic energy shortages and villagers here have been cutting down trees for firewood. The flooding could not have happened at a worst time. Most of the rice here had already been harvested and it is too late to plant new crops before the winter.

The future looks grim - and people here are likely to depend on outside aid for some time to come.

The BBC's Caroline Gluck
"Much of the damage was caused by landslides"
See also:

22 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
UN rushes aid to North Korea
16 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
North Korea battered by tidal wave
21 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
N Korea faces desperate future
09 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
N Koreans 'starving to death'
30 Nov 00 | Asia-Pacific
Where famine stalks the land
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