Wed, Jul 26, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Floods killed at least 121 in North Korea: Red Cross

NO APPEAL A Red Cross official indicated that the official death toll was an underestimate but that Pyongyang felt overseas aid was not necessary

AP , SEOUL

Floods that swept across parts of impoverished North Korea killed at least 121 people and left 127 missing, according to figures reported so far by the government, an aid group operating in the communist country said yesterday.

The acting head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies' office in Pyongyang also said that the North Korean government had no plans to launch an international appeal for help after the disaster caused by heavy rains earlier this month.

"The government has made it very clear that we are not allowed to make an international appeal for support," John Bales said by telephone from Pyongyang. "They feel they don't need it, that they can manage with what they've got themselves."

The casualty figures were only for counties where the International Red Cross was working with its national counterpart and didn't cover all affected areas, Bales said, meaning the death toll was expected to rise.

"This is only a partial picture," he said.

`Hundreds' dead

North Korea's official media said last week the disaster had left "hundreds" of people dead or missing, without giving exact casualty figures.

The high water left at least 12,585 families homeless, and the Red Cross is assisting 4,950 of those most in need by providing blankets, water containers, kitchen supplies and plastic sheeting, Bales said.

North Korea had relied on aid to help feed its people after natural disasters and mismanagement in the 1990s led to famine believe to have killed 2 million people or more.

However, last year the country kicked out many international aid groups and rejected emergency food aid, saying it didn't want to create a culture of dependency.

The UN has since negotiated a deal to resume limited food deliveries. But the agency in charge of that aid warned this month that the latest floods have dealt a further blow to the North's food supply.

Damage

The World Food Program said the disaster has damaged some 30,000 hectares of arable land, leading to a potential loss of 100,000 tonnes of food -- about 10 percent of the North's usual annual food shortfall.

South Korea, a key provider of aid to the North, refused to discuss rice handouts during high-level talks between the sides earlier this month after North Korean officials refused to address recent missile launches made despite international objections.

Bales said emergency stockpiles the Red Cross put in place in recent years were now being depleted and required resupply for coping with future disasters.

Aid groups operating in North Korea met yesterday in Pyongyang to coordinate their response to the floods, Bales said. The other groups are "ready to respond but waiting to be asked by the government."

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