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North Korea Reportedly Suffers Severe Crop Damage - 2004-08-02

North Korea's official news agency, in a rare report on a natural disaster, is warning of severe damage to crops in the impoverished country from torrential rains last month.

The Korean Central News Agency says heavy rains have swamped at least 100,000 hectares of cropland and more than a 1,000 homes have been flooded, mainly in the southern and central part of the country.

That would be about four percent of North Korea's arable land.

The state-run news agency adds the damaged fields are unlikely to produce a crop this year.

International aid organizations in Pyongyang, as well as officials in Seoul, said that as of Monday, they had not been asked for additional help by the North.

Richard Ragan, director of the World Food Program's office in Pyongyang, says North Korea's early wheat and barley crop received too much rain right before the harvest.

"What may be impacted most significantly at this point is the seed crop - what they would use for planting material next year," he said.

UNICEF representative Pierrette Vuthi in Pyongyang traveled to the northern part of the country last week where the situation appears not to be as dire.

"There were some roads that were cut off but it wasn't major flooding because the fields looked good," said Mr. Vuthi. "I'm not aware of any major flooding in the south of the country because I haven't been there and I haven't heard of a major flood situation."

Mr. Ragan says North Korea is becoming more open about reporting disasters, and this latest dispatch means "there could certainly be a significant problem" with this year's harvest.

North Korea suffered a famine in the mid-1990's, and now relies on foreign aid to feed about one-fourth of its population of 22 million. Its primary donors are South Korea, Japan, China, Russia and the United States.

Some countries, especially Japan and the United States, have cut back donations over the past few years, because of disputes with Pyongyang over its nuclear weapons programs and its kidnapping of Japanese citizens in the past.

The World Food Program's Mr. Ragan says 35,000 tons of Russian wheat just arrived in North Korea a few days ago.