SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea sent its first batch of emergency aid on Thursday to relieve flooding in North Korea that has killed hundreds, and a top Pyongyang official said the North is aiming to restore basic services by the end of September.
North Korea and international aid agencies said the impoverished state was hit by some of its worst flooding in years earlier this month that ravaged farm land, destroyed thousands of buildings and left more than 300,000 people homeless.
A convoy of 34 trucks carrying emergency food rations, water and other goods left South Korea for the North on Thursday. Seoul has pledged to provide 7.1 billion won ($7.6 million) in aid.
North Korea has also requested construction materials, a South Korean Red Cross official said, adding the building supplies would probably be sent in another aid shipment soon.
Jo Yong-nam, a senior official with North Korea’s flood damage prevention committee, told a pro-Pyongyang newspaper that the communist state did not have enough shelter for its homeless and many were being asked to stay in damaged buildings.
“The committee is working to finish basic work on restoring damage by the end of September. It starts to get cold in October in this country,” Jo told the Choson Sinbo, which is based in Japan.
North Korea is urgently trying to repair roads and rail lines destroyed by floods and landslides to help in the delivery of emergency aid, he said in an Internet report monitored in Seoul.
The U.N. World Food Programme, which already has a programme on the ground to feed the country’s most needy, said on Tuesday it would immediately begin the distribution of emergency food rations.
It reached an agreement with the North Korean government to provide food to 215,000 people affected by the flooding over three months. The flood aid will cost between $5 million to $6 million according to preliminary estimates, it said.
North Korea, which already battles food shortages even in years with good harvests, said about 11 percent of the land used to grow grain and maize was made useless by the flooding.