China to give North emergency help

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China to give North emergency help

North Korea will receive emergency aid from China, state media said, amid reports that the impoverished country's food crisis would worsen this year.

China has decided to provide an unspecified amount of “emergency relief materials” to North Korea, its official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said late Wednesday.

“This measure will encourage the Korean people in their efforts to recover from the flood damage as early as possible and more energetically step up in the building of a thriving nation,” it said.

The report followed a message of sympathy from China's President Hu Jintao to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

In the message, quoted by KCNA, Hu expressed deep sympathy and consolation over “the sad news that some parts of your country were hit by severe floods recently, causing casualties and property loss.”

The North has reported widespread flooding this summer that washed away homes, roads, railways and farmland, causing an unspecified number of deaths.

Heavy downpours last week swelled the Yalu (Amnok) River, which forms part of the border between China and North Korea, sending water over its banks on both sides and inundating homes, roads and farmland.

South Korea's Red Cross yesterday also proposed providing aid to North Korea to help the communist neighbor recover from recent flood damages, an official said.

The proposal was made in a message delivered to an inter-Korean office in the North Korean border town of Kaesong, said a Unification Ministry official in Seoul.

“It's not just the people in the Sinuiju border area that we're considering providing aid to,” a Red Cross official said. “We will follow the examples of 2006 and 2007 when we provided help, but the scale of aid this year will be determined upon exact assessments.”

Said the ministry official: “The emergency aid will mainly consist of noodles, water, milk and the like.”

The aid, if accepted, could open room for improvement in the inter-Korean relations, which have soured since South Korea blamed North Korea in May for the sinking of its warship. Pyongyang denies involvement in the sinking that killed 46 sailors.

After decades of deforestation, the North is particularly vulnerable to flooding. In 2007, it reported at least 600 people dead or missing from devastating floods.

Aid groups warned that this year's flooding would aggravate the North's chronic food shortages.

The North suffered a famine in the mid-1990s, which killed hundreds of thousands of people. The UN Children's Fund estimates one third of children are stunted by malnutrition.

In addition, a bungled currency revaluation last November, designed to flush out entrepreneurs' savings, backfired, fuelling food shortages and sparking rare outbreaks of unrest.

In 2008, South Korea suspended an annual rice shipment to its impoverished neighbor as relations soured.

AFP, Yonhap
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