U.N. to send food aid to flood-hit North Korea

SEOUL Sat Aug 4, 2012 6:01am EDT

North Koreans are seen at a flooded village in Anju July 30, 2012 in this picture released by North Korea's official news agency KCNA in Pyongyang. Widespread flooding in North Korea appeared to worsen on Monday after 24 hours of torrential rain hit the impoverished state which even in times of good harvest is unable to feed itself. REUTERS/KCNA

North Koreans are seen at a flooded village in Anju July 30, 2012 in this picture released by North Korea's official news agency KCNA in Pyongyang. Widespread flooding in North Korea appeared to worsen on Monday after 24 hours of torrential rain hit the impoverished state which even in times of good harvest is unable to feed itself.

Credit: Reuters/KCNA

SEOUL (Reuters) - The U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) has said it will send a first batch of emergency food aid to impoverished North Korea, where a series of deluges and a typhoon have left hundreds of people dead or missing.

The North's state media reported on Saturday that the death toll from flooding between late June and the end of last month had increased to 169.

KCNA news agency said the number of missing had risen to some 400, while 212,200 had been left homeless.

In a statement published on its website on Friday, WFP said it would send emergency assistance comprising "an initial ration of 400 grams of maize per day for 14 days".

A United Nations mission which recently visited the affected regions found considerable damage to maize, soybean and rice fields, the WFP statement said.

KCNA reported on Saturday the floods had washed away 65,280 hectares of farmland. It added more than 1,400 educational, healthcare and factory buildings had also collapsed or damaged.

Since the mid-1990s, North Korea's agricultural sector has become increasingly vulnerable to floods and drought as a result of widespread deforestation.

In Geneva on Friday, U.N. agencies said access to North Korea has improved during the most recent flooding, indicating the country wants to ease its traditional isolation at least temporarily.

Still, it remains one of the world's most reclusive states, even after young leader Kim Jong-un inherited dynastic power from his father Kim Jong-il, who died in December.

A recent U.N. report classified 7.2 million of the country's 24 million population as "chronic poor", and said one in three children was stunted from poor nutrition.

(Reporting by Sung-won Shim; Editing by Daniel Magnowski and Jeremy Laurence)

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