World News

Red Cross struggles to raise funds for North Korean flood relief

BEIJING (Reuters) - The Red Cross is struggling to raise needed funds to aid flood-affected regions of North Korea after a disappointing response from the international community to its emergency appeal, a spokesman said on Saturday.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un gives guidance on the field during the drive for recovery from the flood that hit Rason city in this undated picture. REUTERS/KCNA

At least 133 people have died in North Korea and some 600,000 people have been affected by flooding caused by heavy rain in late August and early September.

Concerns are growing about the health and welfare of those affected as winter sets in.

Red Cross has only raised 25 percent of the 15.2 million Swiss francs ($15.38 million) it sought in an emergency appeal aimed at helping more than 330,000 people needing humanitarian assistance over the next 12 months.

International donors need to “put politics aside and recognise this is a humanitarian tragedy for thousands of people,” Patrick Fuller, communications manager for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), told reporters in Beijing after returning from North Korea.

Donors’ political concerns about the North Korean government have hampered efforts to raise funds, Fuller said, even though the money donated to the Red Cross is spent by the organisation, without passing through the government.

In March, the 15-member U.N. Security Council imposed tough new sanctions on North Korea following its fourth nuclear test in January.

“We can really make progress with the funding we have but it’s not nearly enough. It’s not nearly enough to support the operation over the coming months,” Fuller said.

The North Korean government has pledged to build 20,000 houses before the worst of the winter hits.

The Red Cross plans to provide some roofing supplies and help with plumbing as it is difficult for the government to import items including piping and water pumps because of international sanctions.

Government-led reconstruction efforts have moved at an incredibly fast pace, the IFRC said, with cement factories working overtime and a constant stream of building materials reaching the affected areas by train and ship.

“Credit has to go to the government for what they’ve achieved,” Fuller said.

“They will have achieved in three months probably what most other countries achieve in three years after a major disaster.”

($1 = 0.9882 Swiss francs)

Reporting by Sue-Lin Wong; editing by Jason Neely