08/16/2007, 00.00
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Caritas Corea to help northern flood victims

Mgr Lazarus You Heung-sik, president of the Catholic humanitarian agency, makes the announcement. He says that his organisation is waiting for an assessment before intervening. Red Cross reports more than 220 dead and 300,000 homeless people. Mountain deforestation is the main cause for the disaster.

Daejon (AsiaNews) – At least 221 people have been killed and 82 are still missing after severe flooding in North Korea, this according to International Red Cross/Red Crescent Society. As many as 300,000 people have been left without homes in the southern part of North Korea.

Caritas Corea was among many international humanitarian agencies to intervene. Mgr Lazarus You Heung-sik, bishop of Daejon and president of Caritas Corea, told AsiaNews that “today after a meeting it was decided to start providing aid. Now we are waiting for the North to tell us its most urgent needs so that we can plan for it.”

According to official data, 11 per cent of the grain harvest (equivalent to some 450,000 tons) was lost. Heavy rains inundated at least 100,000 hectares (247,000 acres) of farmland. Food safety is now at risk in a country that already needs foreign aid to feed its people.

The World Food Programme said it has proposed an emergency programme to feed 500,000 people for a month and is awaiting Pyongyang's response.

Some 46,580 homes were destroyed or damaged, leaving 88,400 families homeless. About 800 public buildings and, 540 bridges were also destroyed. Landslides cut railways in about 70 places, and at least a thousand vehicles, pumps and electric engines were lost,” Mgr You said.

Parts of the capital lost power, and bus and subway services were hit, Kim Sung-Gwan of the electric power ministry told Pyongyang radio.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported that the road linking the capital Pyongyang to the eastern city of Wonsan was badly damaged.

Many however believe that North Korea is inflating the numbers to get more aid from the international community at a time when there is some progress in the negotiations about its nuclear programme and a few days before the summit between the Communist regime’s ‘deal leader’ and the president of South Korea.

When it comes to Pyongyang, “everything is possible”, said Bishop You; “but the downpour was heavy.”

“Flooding was largely man-made,” he added. “North Korea is very poor and winters are harsh. A great number of trees are cut down to turn the land over to farming, whilst the wood is burnt to heat homes. However, mountain deforestation has made the ground soft and prone to landslides.”

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