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Food sent to North Korea after floods; nearly 63,000 homeless

August 3, 2012 |  1:25 pm

Floods

The World Food Program is dispatching emergency help to North Korea after devastating flooding that has killed scores of people and left nearly 63,000 homeless. The emergency aid will provide flood victims with 400 grams of maize per day for two weeks, the United Nations agency said.

North Korean state media reported this week that 4,000 homes were submerged from the torrential rain that hit the country in recent weeks. Televised reports showed North Koreans paddling boats to reach people stranded on roofs and streets as vast muddy rivers.

At least 88 people died, according to official government figures. The United Nations found that many hospitals were damaged and inaccessible, wells had been sullied by overflowing latrines, and fields of rice, soy and maize were damaged.

North Korea already had a chronic food shortage, leaving it especially vulnerable when disasters strike. Last year, the country got too much rain, damaging farmland; it already faced a shortfall of roughly 240,000 metric tons of food before it began suffering drought this year, according to researchers   Marcus Noland and Stephan Haggard.

Malnutrition is so dire that North Koreans are several inches shorter, on average, than their South Korean counterparts; the minimum height requirement for the military was recently lowered to 4 feet 9 inches, the Times’ Barbara Demick reported.

Help has not kept pace with the estimated need. The World Food Program has gotten only a third of the money it has sought under programs for pregnant women, children and the elderly, and to help North Koreans restore their livelihoods.

A planned infusion of food aid from the United States was scuttled after North Korea launched a rocket this year, an act that the U.S. said showed that the country would not abide by international norms. The U.S. has also worried about food being diverted to the military or the country's elite.

A State Department spokesman said Thursday that the U.S. was concerned about the North Korean people, but had not gotten requests for assistance.

“If requested, it’s something that we would carefully evaluate, but we’re not at that point,” press office director Patrick Ventrell said.

Instead, North Korea turned to the U.N., asking it to release emergency stocks of food and fuel that were already in position, a spokesman for Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Thursday.

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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: Residents wait on a in Anju City, South Phyongan Province, North Korea on Monday. Credit: Kim Kwang Hyon / Associated Press 

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