Floods leave North Koreans hungry
GENEVA (Reuters) - North Korea, where floods have seriously damaged nearly one sixth of arable land, will continue to need international food aid in the long term, the United Nations said on Friday.
The U.N.'s World Food Program, reporting on its assessment of food security in the reclusive country after last month's devastating floods, is to provide emergency food rations to 215,000 people in six provinces for the next three months.
The floods killed hundreds and left hundreds of thousands homeless, with the hardest hit areas located in four provinces which are home to 76 percent of total arable land, it said.
"North Korean farmers and communities will require continuing international assistance to dig out from the damage caused by these floods, to recover livestock and to replant fields," WFP spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume said.
The foreign aid would need to be "long term", she added.
The country does not produce enough food to feed its population of 23 million, even with a good harvest. Aid agencies have said they expect the food shortage to be severe this year.
Relations between the secretive communist state and the West are thawing after a long stand-off over Pyongyang's nuclear program. U.S. President George W. Bush, who once branded North Korea part of an "axis of evil", said on Friday that Washington would consider a peace treaty with North Korea.
North Korea's Agriculture Ministry had told the WFP that 16 percent of arable land -- mainly used for growing rice, maize and soybeans -- had been seriously damaged, Berthiaume said.
"WFP fears a negative impact on the public distribution system in the country where everyone receives food rations," she said.
WFP had enjoyed "unprecedented government permission" to visit some 33 flood-stricken districts during its food security evaluation conducted from August 17-26, she added.
WFP's program to feed 215,000 people, estimated to cost $5-6 million, is part of a wider U.N. appeal for $14.1 million, launched in late August.
Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said the appeal was 50 percent financed. "We are very satisfied for now. It is a good start," she said.
The U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) said it feared outbreaks of water-borne diseases such as diarrhea in North Korea following the floods.
UNICEF is distributing oral rehydration salts and water purification tablets, but its priority is to help repair broken water distribution systems as quickly as possible, she said.
North Korea's appeal for aid was its first call in 12 years, since flooding in the 1990s led to a famine that some estimate killed as many as 2 million people.