ANJU, North Korea – U.N. staff visited storm-pounded areas of North Korea on Tuesday, after heavy rain submerged buildings and rice paddies, cut off power and forced people to climb onto rooftops for safety.
North Korea-based United Nations staff was visiting hard-hit South Phyongan and Kangwon provinces to see what help the U.N. team in the country might provide, said Christopher de Bono, UNICEF's chief of communications for East Asia and the Pacific. He had no other details.
Francis Markus, a spokesman for the International Federation of Red Cross East Asia, said in Beijing that his fact-finding teams in North Korea are reporting that drinking water, food and shelter are critically needed.
"Drinking water is a critical issue with the water systems having been taken out of action, and there's obviously a danger of water-borne diseases if things are not done to improve the situation," he said.
The rain Sunday and Monday followed downpours earlier this month that killed nearly 90 people and left more than 60,000 homeless. The rain hit the capital, Pyongyang, and other regions, with western coastal areas reporting heavy damage.
Coming on the heels of a severe drought, the flooding is renewing food worries about a country that already struggles to feed its people. Two-thirds of North Korea's 24 million people face chronic food shortages, the United Nations said last month while asking donors for $198 million in humanitarian aid for the country.
In Anju city in South Phyongan, the Chongchon River flooded Monday, cutting communication lines and submerging homes, rice paddies and other fields, said Kim Kwang Dok, vice chairman of the Anju City People's Committee. He told The Associated Press that the disaster was the worst in the city's history.
North Korea's official media reported Tuesday that premier Choe Yong Rim visited flooded towns and discussed ways to help recovery efforts, including planting more trees to prevent erosion, which contributes to flooding.
Helicopters and airplanes flew to various areas to rescue flood victims, state media said. Casualties from the latest rains were not immediately reported.
Earlier this year, North Korea mobilized soldiers and workers to pour buckets of water on parched fields, irrigate farms and repair wells as what officials described as the worst dry spell in a century gripped parts of both North and South Korea.
Markus said North Korean communities' ability to cope with natural disasters is "stretched to the limit."
"The humanitarian situation has not really shown any clear signs of improvement over recent years. In fact, there's been a gradual deterioration," he said.
North Korea does not produce enough food to feed its people, and relies on limited purchases of food as well as outside donations to make up the shortfall. It also suffered a famine in the mid- and late 1990s, the FAO and World Food Program said in a special report late last year.
North Korea criticized U.S. sanctions Tuesday as causing its economic problems. But, the Foreign Ministry's statement said officials will continue building up the economy by relying on an arms industry that allows for its nuclear deterrent to be reinforced.
International talks meant to rid North Korea of its nuclear arms program have been stalled since late 2008.
Associated Press writers Foster Klug and Hyung-jin Kim contributed to this report from Seoul, South Korea.