SEOUL, South Korea – Floods caused by the largest rains ever recorded in parts of North Korea have destroyed more than one-tenth of the impoverished country's farmland at the height of the growing season, official media reported Wednesday.
"It is hard to expect a high-grain output owing to the uninterrupted rainstorms at the most important time for the growth of crops in the country," the North's official Korean Central News Agency said.
Precipitation along some areas of the Taedong River are the "largest ever in the history" of measurements taken by the country's weather agency, KCNA said.
The amount of detail given in the official reports on this year's storms by the secretive North appeared to indicate the desperation of the regime and amount to a cry for help from the outside world.
The damage has submerged, buried or washed away more than 11 percent of rice and corn fields in the country, KCNA reported, citing Agriculture Ministry official Ri Jae Hyon.
"The damage to farm crops by the current torrential rains is heavier than the previous ones in our country," Ri was quoted as saying.
The rain was worse than floods that battered the country 40 years ago, KCNA reported, noting the total rain from Aug. 7-11 averaged 20.6 inches, 2.1 inches more than in the previous disaster in that same month in 1967.
The North is especially susceptible to bad weather because of a vicious circle where people strip hillsides of natural vegetation to create more arable land to grow food — increasing the risk of floods. The country has suffered from food shortages since the mid-1990s, due to natural disasters along with outdated farming methods and the loss of Pyongyang's Soviet benefactor.
Some 113,666 acres of fields in South Phyongan and South Hwanghae provinces were decimated, according to KCNA, noting those areas are the "main granaries of the country."
Another 91,427 acres were also destroyed in North Hwanghae province, the agency said.
The North's state media earlier said the summer storms that battered wide swaths of the country left "hundreds" dead or missing, and other aid officials have said the toll was at least 200.
To cope with the damage, the North has mobilized the military to help with recovery efforts, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported Wednesday, citing unnamed South Korean government officials.
The U.N. World Food Program said Wednesday that North Korean officials reported 200,000-300,000 people were now homeless, with the total number of those affected probably much larger.
Aid workers who visited areas just north of Pyongyang saw extensive erosion and flooding, WFP spokesman Paul Risley said, adding the effects were expected to be especially acute because the weather hit during the pollination period for the crops.
"There is concern that this could indicate that these floods could significantly reduce the size of this year's harvest," Risley said from Bangkok, Thailand.
Tensions over the North's nuclear weapons program have constrained feeding efforts as other countries were reluctant to donate aid to the country, although the situation has recently improved and North Korea shut off its sole operating nuclear reactor last month.
Risley said the WFP had planned to double by September the number of those it feeds to 1.9 million people — mostly children and nursing mothers — after a recent donation of $20 million worth of food from South Korea.
But because of the floods, that aid is expected to be diverted and the WFP will likely launch a new international appeal for assistance, Risley said.
The WFP is able to produce critical food items such as biscuits from factories that it runs inside North Korea. However, it still needs outside commodities like wheat and rice to make them that are shipped via roads and rail — which the North has said were hard-hit by the latest weather.
"We're very concerned by the reports of damages to infrastructure, since that may affect our ability to quickly bring in emergency food rations," Risley said.
The North was also devastated by floods last year where South Korean intelligence estimated 800-900 people were left dead or missing.