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N Korea Flood*

Aid rushed to N. Korea flood victims

October 23, 2001 Posted: 8:30 AM EDT (1230 GMT)

Farmers collect what is left of the paddy rice most of which has been ruined by the floods

PYONGYANG, North Korea -- U.N. relief workers are rushing food aid to flood victims in North Korea after much of this year's harvest was destroyed by heavy rains

The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) says it has dispatched 1,850 tons of wheat to the worst hit areas in southeastern Kangwon Province -- enough to feed some 145,000 affected people.

This will provide relief until locally grown rice and vegetables become available said the WFP.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has also sent gifts to people in flood-afflicted areas according to the state-run Korea Central News Agency.

According to the U.N. thousands of villagers saw much of their harvested rice washed away when 400 millimeters of rain fell in a 12-hour period earlier this month inundating paddy fields.

The floods were a serious blow to a country already facing food shortages.

This year's harvest had been expected to be better than the last.

"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 ", said Rick Corsino, U.N. World Food Program (WFP) Country Director.

North Korea has already been hit by the country's worst ever spring droughts leaving a third of the country's 22 million people dependent on aid.

'Worst in living memory'

Wonsan city, home to 309,000 people, and capital of Kangwon province was the worst hit area.

The area was hit hard by two days of unprecedented torrential rain that left tens of thousands of hectares of arable land submerged.

The freak rains caused large-scale damage to crops, homes and infrastructure.

"The rains that hit the east coast on October 9 to 10 were the worst experienced in the area in living memory," said Corsino.

"Our first assessment, on the day following the rains, showed thousands of hectares of rice paddy lying under one meter or more of water in some places."

Flooding in Kangwon province was caused in part by a tidal surge that prevented run-off water draining into the sea, resulting in the loss of an estimated 50,000 tons of paddy rice said the WFP.

Even when confined to a relatively small area, such losses can aggravate the already precarious food situation in a mountainous country where only 20 percent of the land is available for cultivation.

Impoverished North Korea has been plagued by food shortages since at least 1995 because of a combination of natural disasters and official mismanagement.

Over the years hundreds of thousands of North Koreans are believed to have died from famine or related diseases.

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