North Korea: UN Food Agency's Biggest Operation Worldwide

ROME, Italy, October 22, 2001 (ENS) - The United Nations World Food Programme today said it is rushing emergency rations to tens of thousands of flood victims in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), following freak rains in the southeast of the country that caused massive damage to crops, homes and roads and bridges. Eighty-one people were killed, 33 people are missing, and 84 were seriously injured.

The World Food Programme (WFP) aims to mobilize and deliver one million tons of food aid to more than 7.6 million North Koreans. It is the agency's single largest operation worldwide, bigger than the urgent relief effort being staged in Afghanistan to deliver 52,000 tons a month.

"The rains that hit the east coast on October 9 and 10 were the worst experienced in the area in living memory," said Rick Corsino, World Food Programme country director for the DPRK.

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Flooded North Korean province of Kangwon in 2000 (Photos WFP/Tom Haskell)
Several joint assessments have been conducted to the worst affected areas by the DPRK Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent as well as other local and international agencies, including the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

People still homeless in North Korea's Kangwon Province number 9,326 in the capital of Wonsan City, there are 1,412 homeless in Tongchon County, and 592 people in Anbyon County.

The UN agency dispatched 1,850 tons of wheat to the epicentre of the floods in North Korea's Kangwon province, enough to feed 145,000 of the worst affected people until the end of November, when locally grown rice and vegetables become available.

The Kangwon flooding was caused in part by a tidal surge that prevented run-off water draining into the sea. "Our first assessment, on the day following the rains, showed thousands of hectares of rice paddy lying under one metre (three feet) or more of water in some places," said Corsino.

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North Koreans unload food aid at one of the few ports open to UN ships.
It has been a decade of disasters for these people, whose homes and gardens were inundated when 15.7 inches of rain fell in a 12-hour period. They experienced this flood after one of the longest spring droughts in history.

"The storm struck at a particularly bad time as much of the rice had recently been cut and was lying in the paddy fields to dry and eventually be carried off for threshing," said Corsino.

The drought and flood are the latest in a series of natural disasters, including floods and tidal waves, to threaten DPRK's food security. There were floods in 1995 and 1996, drought and storms in 1997, and drought, high winds and floods again in 2000.

WFP is working with the DPRK Government's Flood Damage Rehabilitation Committee to identify food for work projects. These might include the rebuilding of sea dykes and river embankments, the deepening of streams and reforestation.