Associated France Press 3/8/2006
N Korean flood toll thought to be 10,000
Up to 10,000 North Koreans are believed dead or missing in what Pyongyang's official media is describing as the worst flooding in a century, a respected South Korean humanitarian group says.
"About 4,000 people are now listed as missing, and we expect the final toll of dead and missing to reach 10,000," the independent aid group Good Friends said.
North Korea's official media has so far admitted that hundreds of people are dead or missing after the country was battered by heavy rainfall for nearly two weeks from July 10.
Seoul-based Good Friends says the media is now terming the flooding the worst to hit the impoverished country in a century and that a massive relief operation is now under way.
In a statement, the group says despite the urgency of the disaster, North Korean soldiers have been ordered to stay in their barracks and not to help with relief operations because of tension with the outside world over North Korea's recent missile tests.
North Korea's bare hillsides, which have been stripped of tree cover by impoverished residents looking for fuel, are particularly vulnerable to flooding and landslides caused by erosion.
Two weeks of heavy rainfall sent rainwater sweeping unimpeded down deforested hillsides, sending rivers of mud through farms and villages.
The aid group says the worst-hit areas include Sinyang and other counties along the upstream of the Taedong river which runs through the centre of Pyongyang.
It says malaria is now spreading in southern regions.
South Korea's former unification minister Jeong Se-Hyun, who is now leading the non-governmental Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation, says North Korea is clearly facing a national crisis.
Damage to the harvest across North Korea sparked concerns that its chronic food shortages may worsen again this year.
Mr Jeong says North Korea, however, cannot bear to ask for help from South Korea or the international community because of tension.
South Korean officials say North Korea earlier rejected an offer of help from South Korea's Red Cross to help cope with the natural disaster.