The United Nations Children's Fund says hundreds of thousands of flood victims in North Korea are in a fragile state and need emergency assistance. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva that UNICEF says food, water, medicine and shelter are priority needs.
In the past two months, North Korea has been hit by two waves of floods. In August, more than one million people were affected. The floods killed 600 people, left 170,000 homeless, and destroyed about 10 percent of North Korea's agricultural land.
The U.N. Children's Fund says a second flood at the end of September washed away many roads, bridges and other infrastructure that had been rebuilt after the August disaster.
UNICEF Representative in North Korea, Michel Le Pechoux, says his agency is looking into the nutritional status of children under age five in 19 flood-affected counties. He says 70 percent of the homeless families live in these areas.
"What we are really trying to do is go to the areas that have been affected," he said. "Through this rapid screening identify the children who require rehabilitation, nutritional rehabilitation and also measure how much the floods have affected the nutritional status in those areas."
Le Pechoux says North Korea is in a fragile state. But, he says there has been a noticeable and welcome change in the attitude of the government toward international agencies. And, this, he says is making it easier to distribute aid.
"I think the environment in which we work is getting better, and I think the situation for children is improving, though there are a lot of challenges that remain," he said.
The last U.N. nutritional survey in 2004 found that 37 percent of young children in North Korea were chronically malnourished and 23 percent were underweight.
Le Pechoux says this is high, but says these rates are similar to those found in countries such as Cambodia, Laos and Burma.
And he says it is an improvement compared to the situation in North Korea some 10 years ago. Then, he says, more than 60 percent of children under five were chronically malnourished and underweight.
"That said, the malnutrition is still high and the situation is fragile because DPRK [Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea] is a country that is struggling to be self-sufficient," said Le Pechoux. "And, the fact that a lot of agricultural land has been affected is of serious concern to all U.N. agencies in DPRK."
But the UNICEF official says he believes North Korea has a good chance of overcoming these problems. He says the country has better coping mechanisms now than 10 years ago when it emerged from an economic crisis linked to the collapse of the Soviet Union.
He says most of the $14 million appeal for flood relief has been met.