UN Says Massive Flooding Devastates Parts of North Korea

The United Nations reports massive flooding in North Korea has devastated the southern provinces, including the capital city and key agricultural regions. The U.N. reports that Pyongyang, in a departure from normal practice, has asked for international assistance to meet the emergency needs of the country's population. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

North Korean officials call these the worst rains to have hit the country in 40 years. And they see no let up as more rain is forecast in the coming days.

Official reports say more than 220 people have died and the homes of over 350,000 people have been destroyed or damaged, and tens of thousands of hectares of farmland have been flooded. Officials say there has been huge damage to roads, bridges, public buildings and other structures.

A U.N. team that did an initial assessment earlier this week has confirmed the serious situation being reported by the government. The World Food Program says it sent a rapid assessment team on Friday, with the permission of the government, to survey sites in eight flood-stricken areas.

On the basis of what already is known, WFP spokesman Simon Pluess says it appears there has been widespread flooding of arable land in the southern half of the country.

"It is important to know that the southern half of the country is the main food producing area," said Pluess. "The area inundated is part of what is called the rice bowl. So, it is very fertile and important for the food security of North Korea. As you know, North Korea is a food deficit country and our fear is really that this year's floods will exacerbate the already food insecure situation in the country."

Pluess says the agency has 4,000 tons of food available in the country, which can be rapidly distributed to flood victims. He says this is enough to begin immediately feeding some 350,000 people.

The World Health Organization says it does not know whether there have been any outbreaks of disease in the flood areas. But WHO Spokeswoman, Fadela Chaib, says it is likely that outbreaks will occur and it is important to be prepared.

"When we are facing floods in any country … the main problem will be water and sanitation because these problems will, without doubt, mean that we will have water and food-borne diseases like diarrhea, cholera and dysentery, etc," said Chaib.

Chaib says WHO has set up temporary clinics to help the sick. The U.N. Children's Fund reports it has pre-positioned supplies in government warehouses. Those supplies include kits of essential medicines and water.