N. Korea: Floods Destroyed Tenth Of Farmland|
Updated: 8/15/2007 12:24 PM
SEOUL (AP) — North Korea detailed a picture of
massive devastation Wednesday from some of the country's heaviest rains
that official media said wiped out more than a 10th of the impoverished
country's farmland during peak planting season.
If confirmed, the destruction so far to the country's
agriculture would amount to about a quarter of the damage the North
claimed it suffered in 1995. That disaster exacerbated a famine spawned by
mismanagement of the economy and the loss of Pyongyang's Soviet benefactor
after the fall of communism that eventually left as many as 2 million
In this month's floods, as many as 300,000 people
have been left homeless since the storms began, the North told the U.N.'s
food agency. North Korea has said "hundreds" were killed or missing, but
an aid agency working in the country has said it was told the casualties
numbered at least 200.
The vivid portrait of damage painted in a series of
reports from the North's state-run media appeared to be a cry for help
from a desperate regime that maintains strict secrecy of its internal
affairs and where few outsiders are allowed.
However, the North has also previously exaggerated
the extent of disasters to obtain aid and cover up its own ineptitude in
providing for its people due to its decrepit centrally controlled
The official Korean Central News Agency reported
Wednesday that downpours along some areas of the Taedong River were the
"largest ever in the history" of measurements taken by the country's
"It is hard to expect a high-grain output owing to
the uninterrupted rainstorms at the most important time for the growth of
crops," KCNA said.
The rains have submerged, buried or washed away more
than 11% of rice and corn fields in the country, KCNA reported citing
Agriculture Ministry official Ri Jae Hyon, who said the crop damage from
floods was "heavier than the previous" disasters in the North.
The rain was worse than downpours that battered the
country 40 years ago, KCNA said, noting the total rain from Aug. 7 through
Saturday averaged 20.6 inches, 2.1 inches more than in the previous
disaster in that same month in 1967.
Citizens worked to rebuild roads, clear debris and
shore up sandbags along rivers Wednesday in flood-affected areas outside
Pyongyang, APTN television reported from North Korea. Video footage showed
a farmhouse that appeared to have been swept down a hillside by the
A local official appealed for help and said the
storms had caused "great damage."
"What is badly needed first is rice, cement, daily
necessities and medicine," Tong Chang Son, vice chairman of a government
committee in South Phyongan province, told APTN. "I would be grateful if
there is international aid, for there is great damage on a nationwide
The North is especially vulnerable to the annual
heavy summer rains that soak the Korean peninsula because of a vicious
cycle where people strip hillsides of natural vegetation to create more
arable land to grow food — increasing the risk of floods.
The U.N. World Food Program estimated that the amount
of damage the North Koreans claimed to its fields would result in losses
of about 450,000 tons of crops — nearly half of the 1 million ton annual
shortage the country already faces.
The amount is less than the total 2 million tons the
North said were lost in 1995 floods at the start of its famine, said WFP
spokesman Paul Risley.
"Nonetheless, this would be an extremely serious
reduction in the amount of the harvest," he said.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill
said Washington was considering how it could help the North Koreans.
"It's a serious humanitarian issue, and we would like
to be part of the effort to assist, so we need to evaluate the situation
and see what we can do to help," he told reporters in China before the
start of talks on the North's nuclear program.
An expert on famine in North Korea urged caution over
the official damage estimates due to past overstatements from
"There is a history of the North Koreans exaggerating
the extent of natural disasters in order to obtain aid," said Marcus
Noland, senior fellow at the Washington-based Peterson Institute for
"Releasing such a precise figure so early on simply
serves to raise flags and raises concerns about what's really going on,"
he said, stressing nonetheless that the disaster was still a tragic
situation for North Koreans.
In 1995, the North said floods had displaced of 5.4
million people, but international aid agencies instead found 500,000
homeless — a large crisis, but still only a tenth of what Pyongyang had
claimed, Noland said.
Noland also noted that the disaster reports come
ahead of this month's summit between leaders of the two Koreas.
The liberal Seoul government has been criticized by
conservatives at home and abroad for its engagement policies that have
given unconditional aid to Pyongyang even as it was locked in an
international standoff over its nuclear weapons ambitions.
Aid was already expected to be a key topic of
discussion, and Noland said the latest disaster gives Seoul justification
to provide greatly expanded assistance to its neighbor.
Original article: USA Today - Weather
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