China says waters on North Korean border surge

BEIJING (Reuters) - Water levels on the two main rivers which divide China from North Korea are dangerously high, state media said on Wednesday, augering potentially devastating floods for China’s diplomatically isolated neighbor.

China's Premier Wen Jiabao waves to locals during his visit to the flood-hit Kouqian town of Yongji county, Jilin province August 3, 2010. REUTERS/Stringer

Flooding in the northeastern Chinese province of Jilin, which borders North Korea, has killed at least 74 people in the last two weeks and forced the evacuation of around 784,000 people, state news agency Xinhua said.

The Yalu and Tumen rivers, which border poverty-struck North Korea, “have seen the highest precipitation in local meteorological history,” the report said.

“Rains are forecast to further inundate the river basins over the next two days,” it added.

Jilin’s Yanbian, home to a large population of ethnic Koreans, many of whom have relatives in North Korea, has seen the worst flooding in a century, forcing thousands out of their homes and cutting off communications, Xinhua said.

“Some of the evacuated residents were moved to schools and factories on higher ground. Some are living in tents and others stayed in their relatives’ homes,” it quoted a government official as saying.

Secretive North Korea has yet to announce details of damage suffered by the recent rains, though a dispatch from its KCNA news agency said parts of the country had be struck by record rainfall.

Massive flooding in recent years left hundreds of people dead or missing, swept away buildings and inundated farms, prompting the reclusive state to seek foreign food aid.

Lack of proper infrastructure in most areas outside the capital Pyongyang makes arable land and residential districts of North Korea vulnerable to water damage in times of heavy rains, which in turn hurts harvests and worsens food shortages.

Aid groups have said the North suffers chronic shortfalls of food by as much as 1 million metric tons a year, with traditional key donor countries such as South Korea and the United States having sharply cut contributions in the wake of the North’s provocations.

North Korea can barely feed its 23 million people even with a good harvest due to its hilly terrain and antiquated farming industry.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard, editing by Miral Fahmy