U.N.: North Korea's Crop Damage Threatens Country

Heavy rains in North Korea have destroyed tens of thousands of acres of crops, threatening to worsen the impoverished country's food shortage, a U.N. agency said Monday.

Recent flooding that damaged about 74,000 acres of arable land could lead to the loss of 100,000 metric tons of food, according to a World Food Program report. The estimated loss equals about 10 percent of the gap in the country's annual food supply, Paul Risely, WFP's Asia spokesman.

"This is a real danger," Risely said. The flood damage "will increase the already substantial food gap in the harvest figures coming up for North Korea."

The food agency has said North Korea requires 5.5 million tons of food annually to feed its 23 million people but estimates the country can produce only about 4.5 million tons.

North Korea has relied on outside handouts since the 1990s, when as many as 2 million people are believed to have died because of famine caused by natural disasters and outdated farming methods.

South Korea, a key provider of rice and fertilizer aid, recently announced its intention to withhold rice aid to the North to protest the communist nation's test-firing of seven missiles earlier this month.

The U.N. agency's report said the floods also forced about 60,000 people from their homes, most of them in the central province of South Pyongan.

The agency plans to send 74 tons of mixed food supplies to the area and said it will provide more help when the North Korean government gives its approval. Pyongyang has not made an official appeal for international assistance, the report said.

"We expect to work very closely with the government ... to ensure that international aid can reach those people immediately who require immediate food assistance," Risely said.

Last week, the North's official Korean Central News Agency reported that heavy rains had left "hundreds" of people dead or missing. No precise casualty figures were given.