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North Koreans hit by recent deadly floods badly need drinking water, food and medical assistance, an aid group said on Wednesday after official media had reported 88 dead and nearly 63 000 homeless.
A Red Cross team has visited the western provinces of South and North Pyongan to assess damage, said Francis Markus, a spokesman for the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Beijing.
UN officials have also toured badly-hit regions to assess aid needs.
“In one community, about half of the houses were either destroyed or damaged...the drinking water system has been badly damaged (in some areas),” Markus told AFP.
Shortage of drinking water, difficulty in rebuilding destroyed homes and crop losses are the main concerns cited by residents, he said, adding it was “so difficult” for the injured or sick to get medical treatment in some areas.
The North's state media, giving its casualty toll last Saturday, said about 30 000 hectares of crops were washed away or submerged along with roads, railways and factories.
“The government has been distributing emergency food relief but of course, people's concern is what happens next,” Markus said, adding the IFRC would soon release disaster emergency funds.
The flooding represents a challenge for Kim Jong-Un, new leader of the nation which has grappled with severe food shortages since a famine in the 1990s killed hundreds of thousands.
Following an inspection visit last autumn, UN agencies estimated that three million people would need food aid this year even before the deluge.
Widespread deforestation, partly to clear land for crops, has made the impoverished nation increasingly prone to serious flooding which ends up washing away the harvest.
“It will be good if somehow they could rebuild their houses in a way which is less vulnerable to future disasters,” Markus said.
A senior South Korean official quoted by Yonhap news agency said the North has deployed dozens of combat helicopters normally stationed near the tense sea border with the South to flood-hit areas.
“It seems (North Korea) has suffered severe flood damage considering it has mobilised combat helicopters that had been placed on the forefront,” the official said.
In February the United States reached a deal to offer the North 240 000 tons of food in return for a freeze on nuclear and missile tests.
But the plan was scrapped after Pyongyang's failed rocket launch in April, seen by the US and its allies as an attempted ballistic missile test. - Sapa-AFP