SEOUL North Korean authorities have indicated flooding may have left up to 300,000 people homeless, a U.N. aid agency spokesman said on Wednesday, while the communist state warned of a poor harvest this year due to the heavy rain.
North Korea, which has suffered chronic food shortages for years, said hundreds were dead or missing after flooding over the past several days that washed away thousands of structures and ruined cropland in the country's agricultural bread basket.
The North's official KCNA news agency quoted an agricultural ministry official as saying on Wednesday the damage to farm crops was heavier than in previous floods, with more than 11 percent of paddy and maize fields submerged, buried or swept away.
"Unprecedented torrential rains have poured down in the DPRK for days in succession from August 7, throwing a shadow over (the) prospect of the agricultural production," the agency said. DPRK is North Korea's official name.
"It is hard to expect a high grain output owing to the uninterrupted rainstorms at the most important time for the growth of crops in the country."
Paul Risley, Asia spokesman for the U.N. World Food Programme, said a U.N. assessment team has visited one flood-hit area near Pyongyang, and added that North Korea was seeking international help.
"There was great concern that because these floods occurred during the period of pollination, that it is likely that these floods will have a very significant impact on the quantity of harvest," Risley said by telephone from Bangkok.
North Korean officials who met the assessment team said they believed that 200,000 to 300,000 people have been dislocated by the floods and are in dire need of shelter and food, Risley said.
More U.N. assessment teams will visit other flood-ravaged areas in the coming days, he said.
"The primary need will be for emergency food rations, shelter material and medicine," Risley said.
KCNA said North Hwanghae Province, south of its capital, was hit the hardest, with pumping stations, agricultural structures and waterways destroyed. It added its government was taking measures against the flood damage.
U.S. CONSIDERING AID
In New York on Tuesday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a South Korean, promised at a meeting with North Korean Ambassador Pak Gil Yon that the world body would do all it could to help.
The South Korean government has said it was ready to aid its neighbor, but has yet to receive a request. The United States was also considering aid.
South Korea's Unification Ministry said it expected damage to be worse than last year, when three big storms hit North Korea. A pro-Pyongyang newspaper reported that more than 800 people were killed or went missing in the resulting floods.
The ministry said it does not believe the flooding will delay a planned summit of the leaders of the two Koreas set for August 28-30 in Pyongyang.
In a late Tuesday dispatch, the North's official KCNA news agency said the floods "are causing an enormous damage to the various sectors of the national economy".
It said landslides have wrecked railway lines and roads while electric lines have snapped in a country which does not generate enough power to keep street lights on at night in most places.
Official news broadcasts in the secretive state showed images of collapsed bridges and civilians digging with shovels and their hands for material to build embankments. The broadcasts were monitored in Seoul.
North Korea's infrastructure outside of showcase projects in Pyongyang is mostly in shambles. North Korea has few funds for building and still uses power and rail lines built during Japan's 1910-1945 colonial rule.
Even with a good harvest, North Korea still falls about 1 million tonnes short of the food it needs to feed its 23 million people, experts have said.
The flooding has hit most of the southern half of North Korea and includes the capital and some of its most productive agricultural regions. More rain is forecast for those areas over the next few days.
(Additional reporting by Kim Yeon-hee in Seoul and Patrick Worsnip at the United Nations)