Red Cross steps in to devastated North Korea

TERESA POOLE

Peking

"We hope the government would provide some food for us but throughout the country we know the food situation is serious and there could be some difficulties before the next harvest. So I hope the Red Cross will continue to send this food," said Chu Jong Choi, straight to the camera, with a barren landscape behind him.

Other video pictures showed the remains of a collapsed dam, acres of destroyed paddy fields, and rice aid being distributed to hungry, cold farmers. It was the sort of footage that one might expect to be made available by any country suffering its worst floods this century. Except that this was North Korea.

In the world's most secretive totalitarian regime, the government does not usually beg for international help, let alone allow film footage to be taken in some of its most impoverished areas. But Pyongyang's appeal for international assistance in September, after the devastating floods, is providing first-hand evidence of poverty and hardship in a country whose official creed is self-reliance.

The latest pictures were obtained by the International Red Cross, which is providing emergency food and shelter. Piero Calvi Parisetti, the federation's head of delegation in North Korea, has been in the country since October, travelling to rural areas normally closed to foreigners. "It is so extensive, the flood damage. We visited quite a number of places and everywhere we went we saw massive destruction," he said yesterday in Peking. As well as the stricken northern provinces, the Red Cross found areas south of Pyongyang left devastated by the receding waters.

It is estimated that 500,000 people lost their homes, grain stores and belongings in the August floods. Even before that disaster, North Korea was already suffering from years of poor harvests. "Now it is clear that aid will be needed for much longer - almost certainly until the next rice harvest in the fall of 1996," said Dr Calvi Parisetti. The immediate threat is the winter, when temperatures in the north of the country can fall to -20C.

It is not only the flood areas which are in need. A Chinese visitor recently returned from North Korea confirmed that, even in the cities, the situation is bleak. "There is no meat in the market, no fruit, and scarce vegetables. People eat rice and cold pickled vegetables at home. They have to buy things with [ration] coupons. People in the north dress poorly. No fat people can be found on the streets."

The problem for the Red Cross and the UN World Food Programme has been the reluctance of international donors to give humanitarian aid to North Korea. The Red Cross is targeting 130,000 severely affected people, but its appeal in September for $4.4m (pounds 2.9m) has so far raised only $3m. The UN appeal has fared even worse. The impact of the food shortages on the North Korean government remains unclear, but at the very least the crisis has forced Pyongyang to open its borders to prying Western eyes.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: SThree were established in 1986....

Recruitment Genius: SAGE Bookkeeper & PA to Directors

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map