Flooded NKorean city desperate for drinking water
ANJU, North Korea—North Korean children waited in line with buckets in hand as Red Cross officials handed out clean drinking water in the city of Anju less than a week after floods swept through buildings and homes, raising concerns that an outbreak of disease could put the death toll well past 170.
The heavy monsoon rains that pounded Anju in South Phyongan province, about 65 kilometers (40 miles) north of Pyongyang, early last week triggered the worst flooding in the city's history, local officials told The Associated Press. Residents clambered onto rooftops to escape the rising waters and resorted to traveling by boat.
Since late June, 169 people have been killed, 400 were left missing and some 212,200 people were homeless due to flooding, state media reported Saturday. Vast swaths of farmland remain submerged, possibly threatening the harvest in a country already suffering from food shortages, the United Nations said.
Anju was inundated with 40 centimeters (16 inches) of rain on July 29 and 30, state media said. It was among the three hardest-hit areas in North Korea, with 45 percent of the city's population affected, the U.N. resident coordinator's office in Pyongyang said Thursday after making field visits to flood-stricken regions. Some 36,000 Anju families do not have clean water and nearly two-thirds of the region's farmland was flooded, the U.N. said.
The U.N. called for immediate food assistance, and said providing clean water and health care were crucial to preventing an outbreak of diseases following the breakdown of water supply systems and the flooding of wells. The first shipment of U.N. emergency food aid was being distributed, the World Food Program said Saturday.
On Saturday, AP reporters who traveled to Anju found a city in recovery mode on a sunny day.
Residents lined up with buckets to receive clean water from Red Cross Society officials clad in red vests. Others carried away big boxes filled with medical kits, kitchen sets and blankets. But it's not enough to meet the needs of local residents, said Choe Yong Chol, head of the Anju branch of the Red Cross Society.
The Red Cross has set up two water purification units, but they are capable of providing clean water for only a few thousand people per day, said Kim Song Il, head of the Red Cross' water and sanitation unit. He warned that there is a chance of an outbreak of disease among people still drinking contaminated water.
U.N. and other international organizations are providing emergency items, such as tents, but they are not reaching people in some flooded areas because access to roads and railways hasn't been restored, North Korean officials said.
In addition to running out of emergency supplies, the Red Cross was bracing for more heavy rainfall expected in the next few days, Red Cross Society official Yu Ju Yong told AP.
The torrential rain follows a period of protracted drought that has raised concerns about the effect the severe weather will have on the country's farms.
In June, the United Nations said two-thirds of the country's 24 million people were grappling with chronic food shortages. Less than 20 percent of mountainous North Korea is arable, and decades of deforestation have left the land susceptible to landslides and flooding.
South Korea, meanwhile, was suffering record heat. The Korea Meteorological Administration in Seoul blamed the extreme weather on hot air in the North Pacific clashing with cold air from China, creating a weather phenomenon called an anticyclone.
The United States said the North Korean government has not asked it for emergency aid, but it would consider a donation as it did last year. South Korea's Unification Ministry said Friday it was not considering a resumption of food aid to North Korea.
Associated Press writer Kim Kwang Hyon in Anju contributed to this report.