Crisis looms in North Korea as floods hit before winter

A handout photo taken on Sept 18 and released by Unicef DPRK showing homes damaged when the Tumen River burst its banks in August in Haksan Ri in the northern part of North Korea.
A handout photo taken on Sept 18 and released by Unicef DPRK showing homes damaged when the Tumen River burst its banks in August in Haksan Ri in the northern part of North Korea.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Red Cross calls for urgent action despite Pyongyang's provocative fifth nuclear test last month

SEOUL • At least 600,000 people in North Korea have been affected by heavy flooding that damaged or destroyed 30,000 homes, the Red Cross has said, calling for urgent humanitarian aid ahead of the winter.

"The disaster hit, in many ways, at probably the worst time," said Mr Chris Staines, head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) delegation in North Korea.

The IFRC has been working with North Korea's Red Cross Society to deliver aid to north-eastern communities that suffered the worst of the flooding caused by heavy rains in late August.

Mr Staines said "urgent action" was needed before the first snowfall expected late this month when temperatures fall below freezing and can reach minus 30 deg C in mid-winter.

"These are seriously harsh conditions and that's why we need much more permanent solutions in terms of shelter, in terms of the health services and the access to food, and sorting out issues around safe water," he said.

The IFRC has launched an emergency appeal to reach more than 330,000 people with humanitarian assistance over the next 12 months. The appeal's target of 15.2 million Swiss francs (S$21.3 million) was only 11 per cent covered by the end of last month.

The IFRC released video footage it said was taken last week in North Hamgyong province that showed damaged buildings and displaced people living in rows of temporary shelters.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said on Sept 12 that, according to figures based on government data, 133 people had been killed and 395 were missing because of severe flooding in the north-east of the country.

News of the disaster has come as North Korea appears even more isolated from its neighbours and the wider world after its fifth nuclear test last month.

Widespread deforestation for fuel and farming has made the impoverished country prone to natural disasters, especially floods.

Meanwhile, powerful typhoon Chaba barrelled towards Japan's southern-most Okinawa island chain yesterday, causing airlines to cancel more than 300 flights as the authorities issued their highest warning for the storm.

Authorities in the Okinawan capital Naha issued an evacuation advisory for the 320,000 residents. However, there were no immediate reports of damage or injuries.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 04, 2016, with the headline 'Crisis looms in N. Korea as floods hit before winter'. Print Edition | Subscribe