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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 August 2007, 00:06 GMT 01:06 UK
North Korea's flooded 'rice bowl'
Flooded road in North Korea ( image courtesy of WFP)

The UN World Food programme's acting country director, Michael Dunford, has just returned from a visit to one of North Korea's flood-affected areas, in the south of the country.

He told the BBC news website what he saw and how the floods are affecting a country already dependent on food aid.

We went to Sogon, driving for about two hours to get there, and we saw extensive examples of flooding as we went down, with widespread inundation of arable lands which, of course, creates concerns as regards the long-term food implications.

We have been told by the government that the Kangwon province is one of the areas that is worst affected. The impression we are getting is that there is severe damage throughout the southern half of the country, across to the east.

Young North Korean men look at a flooded field (image: WFP)
The floods have hit the country's main rice and maize producing areas

The southern part of the country is the main food-producing area. As you go further north it is more mountainous and hence their ability to produce is limited.

The area that has been inundated is part of the 'rice bowl', hence this creates additional concerns as to what impact that may have.

We estimate that annually there is a food deficit of about a million tons of cereals - that's maize and rice. So, in the past, North Korea has relied on bilateral assistance, from China and South Korea predominantly, and also multilateral support through the World Food Programme.

Collapsed houses

Last year, the amount of food that entered the county did not meet the food gap and hence we were concerned about the implications that was going to have for food security in the country and potentially the impact that may have on the most vulnerable.

Certainly for them to have the floods this year is only going to exacerbate the already food insecure situation in the country.

A flooded field (image: WFP)
The impression we are getting is that this is very severe flooding

People are managing as best they can. We understand from the government that those who have lost their homes are now residing in either their place of work or some form of community shelter - either a school or nursery, we expect.

We were dealing with local officials. They tell us that the waters have inundated houses, houses have collapsed, factories have been completely inundated and roads and bridges have been washed away. Certainly the impression we are getting is that this is very severe flooding.

We saw bridges that were knocked down, we saw roads that had been washed away. The infrastructure is typically old and anything that damages it further is going to have implications.

Wiped out

The landscape in the southern area is a combination of flatlands with quite dramatic mountains, there are fields with hills and mountains shooting up.

There are small villages and co-operative farms. These are very rudimentary houses - typically handmade.

People may have a small plot in the front of the house in which they try to grow their own vegetables - potatoes, beans, carrots, tomatoes - they are then surrounded by more extensive farmlands which have been damaged by flooding.

North Koreans cycle wheel their bikes along a flooded road (image: WFP)
Bridges and roads have been damaged by rising water levels

In one area, we were looking at what we thought was a river running through a field of maize but it was in fact the offshoot of a flooded river. Crops have just been wiped out.

We also saw a lot of areas that were completely underwater, knowing that the rice would not be able to recover.

This is the period of pollination and, hence, because the rice is underwater during this period, it won't germinate and hence won't produce for the harvest due in September-October.

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