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South Korea weighing all possibilities to help flood-hit North Korea: ministry

The Unification Ministry (Yonhap)
The Unification Ministry (Yonhap)
South Korea’s Unification Ministry said Monday that it would explore all possible ways to help relief efforts in North Korea’s flood-hit eastern regions.

“We will leave all the possibilities open, including cooperation through state and civilian channels and international organizations, and then come up with concrete cooperative measures,” ministry spokesperson Lee Jong-joo told reporters.

“Our basic stance is that humanitarian cooperation between the two Koreas should be separate from political or military tensions,” she said, adding that when the North suffered from flooding or other disasters in the past, the South provided humanitarian assistance.

But she said the North had not yet shared any information on the flood situation via the recently restored direct hotline.

The two Koreas reopened their military and diplomatic communication channels July 27 after a hiatus of almost 14 months. Since then, they have held phone calls twice a day.

According to North Korea’s state media, the communist country is ramping up relief efforts in the eastern province of South Hamgyong, which was hit hard by heavy rains early this month. The Seoul ministry estimates that 1,170 homes were destroyed and 5,000 residents were evacuated Aug. 1-2.

The North suffers severe damage from flooding every year, largely due to decades of deforestation. During the food crisis in the 1990s, people cut down trees for fuel or to cultivate cropland. Despite regular tree-planting campaigns, deforestation continued, making the floods worse.

Amid the prolonged border shutdown, North Korea is said to be running short of supplies and food. Those reserved for emergency military stockpiles are believed to be used for relief work.

But the North has not yet asked for humanitarian aid from the international community, even though aid is exempt from US and UN sanctions.

On Monday its official newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, stressed that the country was faced with “unprecedented war-like challenges” from COVID-19, sanctions and the recent flooding.

But the newspaper reiterated the principle of “self-reliance” as the way to overcome the struggles.

“All party members and workers must strive to lead the world with our own creation using our own hands and finding it on our own land,” it said.

In the wake of severe floods last year, national leader Kim Jong-un refused to accept humanitarian assistance from outside the country.

By Lee Ji-yoon (jylee@heraldcorp.com)
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