Torrential rains and heavy flooding have resulted in a national disaster for the North Korea, killing hundreds, destroying homes and crippling production. But the government says it is determined to quickly minimize the effects, with help from international aid institutions.

The scale of the damage is staggering, according to news reports. “The continued heavy rainfalls across the country have done a huge damage to people’s living and the national economy,” reported the official Korea Central News Agency.

The rainfall in three provinces during seven days beginning Aug. 7 was equal to the entire rainfall of an entire year, the news agency said.

An estimated 300 people were killed in the flooding. Nearly 47,000 homes were either partially or totally flooded, leaving 88,400 families — more than 300,000 people — homeless. More than 11 percent of farmland was destroyed, and more than 400 factories were submerged. Severe damage to railroads, North Korea’s main form of transportation, caused the entire system to be shut down.

In Pyongyang, the capital, many low-lying streets were submerged under more than six feet of water, “suspending traffic and breaking the supply of electricity and communication networks.”

In addition the coal mining, fisheries and construction industries were severely disrupted.

UN Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Margareta Wahlström, speaking to reporters in New York on Aug. 17, called the situation a “serious disaster.” The UN is coordinating international aid through the World Health Organization, the World Food Program, UNICEF, the United Nations Population Fund, the UN Development Program and other agencies.

The WHO is working with Korea’s Ministry of Public Health, the UN reported, to distribute 80,000 water purification tablets and medical emergency kits.

According to Wahlström, the North Korean government has been working in full cooperation with UN relief agencies. North Korea had initiated the effort by inviting UN agencies to help.

An important meeting between Korean leader Kim Jong Il and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun was rescheduled until October because of the priority of relief work.

North Korean authorities said they have mobilized all state agencies, the military and ordinary citizens to help rebuild. KCNA reported that the public is going “all out” to help afflicted areas. More than 13,400 Red Cross volunteers have helped distribute emergency relief goods and evacuate victims, the agency said.

China and South Korea, among other nations, have also offered assistance.

dmargolis @pww.org

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