U.N.: Food Situation to Worsen in NKorea

The Associated Press
Friday, August 17, 2007; 1:51 PM

SEOUL, South Korea -- The U.N. warned Friday that North Korea food supplies will dwindle as a result of record downpours that wracked the country's agricultural heartland. An aid group said the number of dead and missing had risen to more than 300.

South Korea, the U.S. and Germany offered aid to help North Korea with the week of storms, which the North said destroyed 11 percent of its rice and corn fields.

The Rome-based Food and Agriculture Organization said Friday that could mean as much as 300,000 tons of rice and corn may have been lost, adding that the situation could change depending on coming weather.

"The country's already tight food supply situation will deteriorate" with this year's anticipated shortage, the agency said.

Economic mismanagement and the loss of aid from Moscow after the Soviet Union's breakup strained North Korean production even before it said floods swept away 2 million tons of crops in 1995. The North has been unable to provide for its people since, and faces an annual crop shortfall of about 1 million tons.

In this year's flooding, Terje Lysholm, acting head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies' delegation head in Pyongyang, said there were 221 deaths confirmed and 82 people still missing _ adding that the final toll would likely be around 300.

There were a number of children among the dead, Lysholm said.

The floods also damaged more than 80,000 homes, affecting some 350,000 people, Lysholm told The Associated Press.

The North's official media has reported in vast detail on physical damage to the country's infrastructure but has given no specific numbers for human casualties, only saying "hundreds" were dead or missing.

Some of the hardest-hit regions were along the border with South Korea.

"We have difficulties accessing these areas because the roads are gone," Lysholm said.

Still, the International Red Cross has been able to deliver emergency supplies including kitchen sets, blankets and water purification tablets to about 80 percent of the 16,000 hardest-hit families, and expects to complete distribution over the weekend.

South Korea unveiled a $7.5 million emergency aid package Friday and said it wanted to start shipping supplies early next week, including instant noodles, drinking water, blankets and medicine.

"Considering the seriousness of human and property damage, the government decided to provide emergency relief on grounds of humanitarianism and brotherly love," Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung told reporters.

Leaders of the two Koreas are to meet in Pyongyang this month for the second summit since the peninsula was divided, with aid expected to be a key topic of discussion.

Washington also pledged $100,000 to two non-governmental organizations that will supply the North with supplies such as blankets, shelter materials and water containers, the U.S. Embassy in Seoul said in a statement.

The United States had previously been a large source of aid to the North, but has recently scaled back donations after Pyongyang restricted monitoring of relief deliveries.

© 2007 The Associated Press