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Flood-Stricken North Korea on Brink of Health Crisis

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is appealing for $5.5 million to head-off a potential health crisis in flood-stricken North Korea. The Swiss agency reports North Korea's health infrastructure in the affected areas has been practically wiped out. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Red Cross headquarters in Geneva.

The Red Cross Federation says clinics and hospitals have been put out of action and drug supplies have been ruined by the worst flooding in North Korea in 40 years.

It says most of the funds it is asking for will go toward providing basic emergency medicines and supporting health services in the two worst-affected provinces, South Hamgyong and South Phyongan, and in the city of Kaesong.

Red Cross spokeswoman Anna Nelson says the situation is worsening and more people are falling sick because of the unhealthy conditions. She says drinking water has been contaminated because tube wells in the stricken communities have been submerged by the flood-waters.

"And a lot of toilets have also been submerged. So that creates a very dangerous, a very risky hygiene situation and we have seen an increase in the number of cases reported of diarrhea, as well as respiratory infections, especially in children," said Nelson. "Dehydration is another problem for people who do not have access to safe drinking water, as well as skin and eye infections."

The Red Cross reports the heavy rains, which have hit five provinces over the past two weeks, have killed more than 220 people and left nearly 90,000 homeless. They have wiped out roads, crops, water supplies and bridges and destroyed up to 40 percent of health facilities and supplies.

Nelson says 14,000 volunteers of the North Korean Red Cross have been actively working since the beginning of the emergency to assist the flood victims.

"They have been helping with evacuations and monitoring and first aid. So, in that respect, the assistance that we are providing is being distribute through them and, luckily, they have an extensive network of staff and volunteers and branches in the country," she said.

The multi-million dollar appeal aims to help almost four million people affected by the floods. Most of the money will go to meet health needs. But some will also be used to provide basic relief supplies, such as blankets, water containers and plastic sheets.