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South Korean Emergency Aid Heads For North

Members of JTS Korea, a Seoul-based Buddhist relief agency, stand at Incheon, west of Seoul, 03 August 2006 before a cargo carrying emergency food and clothing leaves for North Korea. The shipment marked the first South Korean consignment of emergency aid to North Koreans since devastating floods last month which an aid group said had left up to 10,000 people dead or missing. Photo courtesy of Kim Jae-Hwan and AFP.
by Jun Kwanwoo
Seoul (AFP) Aug 03, 2006
The first shipment of emergency aid from South Korea to the North since devastating floods last month, which reportedly left up to 10,000 people dead or missing, left on Thursday, an aid group said.

The shipment of flour, instant noodles and clothing came after the North previously rejected an offer of aid from the South's Red Cross in a spat over North Korea's controversial missile tests last month.

"The shipment is the first South Korean aid for North Koreans since the flooding hit them last month," said Kim Kyeong-Hee, the head of JTS Korea, a Seoul-based Buddhist relief agency.

"We hope this will lead to an extensive government-level aid for North Koreans as the flood damage is said to be more serious than known there," Kim said.

He said the supplies, including 100 tonnes of flour, 37,500 packs of instant noodles and 15,000 sets of clothing, had been sent at the North's request. He said more shipments would follow this week and next.

Independent South Korean aid group Good Friends said Wednesday up to 10,000 North Koreans were believed dead or missing in what Pyongyang's official media is describing as the worst flooding in a century.

North Korea has not given a final report on flood damage, but its official media has admitted that hundreds of people were dead or missing after a severe typhoon followed by heavy rain hit the country on July 10.

Serious flooding helped trigger a famine in the mid-1990s in which aid groups claim some two million North Koreans died.

The country still cannot afford to feed its 23-million population itself, and damage to farmland from the latest flooding has sparked concerns that chronic food shortages may worsen again this year.

Decades of reckless deforestation have stripped North Korea of tree cover that provides natural protection from catastrophic flooding, leaving the soil vulnerable to landslides on a massive scale, experts say.

Energy-starved residents have used every scrap of wood from the countryside to cook food or heat homes through the bitter winters.

Government officials have made the problem worse by encouraging residents to expand farmland into the hillsides in a bid to boost food production.

The official Korean Central News Agency said Thursday the president of Indonesia and Maldives had sent a message of sympathy over "a big flood and landslide and claiming huge human and material losses" in North Korea.

South Korea's opposition Grand National Party called on the government, now suspending a rice and fertilizer aid to North Korea in protest at its July 5 missile tests, to resume humaitarian assistance.

"We formally urge the government to supply the North Korean flood vicitms with medicines and daily necessities," party spokeswoman Na Kyung-Won said.

The Seoul government has yet to respond to the rare aid appeal from the conservative opposition party, which is usually critical of Pyongyang.

North Korea watchers say Pyongyang is in crisis but feels it is in no positon to request aid after defying the international community's appeal not to test-launch missiles.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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