UN to start food aid to flooded North Korea as access eases

The UN World Food Programme will start emergency food aid to isolated North Korea, which has been pummeled by a typhoon and flooding.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has said it will send a first batch of emergency food aid to impoverished North Korea, where a series of deluges and a typhoon have left hundreds of people dead or missing.

The North's state media reported on Saturday that the death toll from flooding between late June and the end of last month had increased to 169. KCNA news agency said the number of missing had risen to some 400, while 212,200 had been left homeless.

In a statement published on its website on Friday, WFP said it would send emergency assistance comprising "an initial ration of 400 grams of maize per day for 14 days." A recent UN report classified 7.2 million of the country's 24 million population as "chronic poor," and said 1 in 3 children was stunted from poor nutrition.

A United Nations mission that recently visited the affected regions found considerable damage to maize, soybean, and rice fields, the WFP statement said.

KCNA reported on Saturday the floods had washed away 65,280 hectares (about 161,000 acres) of farmland. It added that more than 1,400 educational, healthcare, and factory buildings had also collapsed or been damaged.

Since the mid-1990s, North Korea's agricultural sector has become increasingly vulnerable to floods and drought as a result of widespread deforestation.

Access to North Korea has improved during recent flooding, UN agencies said on Friday, suggesting the country is seeking to ease its traditional isolation at least temporarily.

"There's been a loosening up and more access to the country and a slightly more relaxed atmosphere," Patrick McCormick, spokesman for the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), told a regular UN news conference in Geneva.

"Even before the flooding, the question of access to North Korea has eased for UNICEF's operations," Mr. McCormick said.

Jens Laerke, spokesman for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said North Korea had taken the initial step to ask the United Nations for support. "There was a request to the UN to organize a joint mission," he told reporters.

Such crises have in the past provided opportunities for the isolated nation to reach out to the outside world, although this has typically not endured. World powers have been watching closely to see if new leader Kim Jong-un, who came to power after his father's death in December, will break from the policy of his predecessors.

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