Thousands displaced by North Korean floods
The full extent of the latest flood disaster in North Korea is still not clear, even after representatives from aid agencies and the UN Development Programme met government officials in Pyongyang.
Several regions have been badly affected by torrential rain and flooding, and tens of thousands of people are believed to have been forced to leave their homes.
But Jerome Sauvage, the UN Development Program's resident coordinator in Pyongyang says they won't know for sure what they are dealing with until they've completed their own on-site assessments.
Presenter: Richard Ewart
Speaker: Jérome Sauvage, UN Development Program's Resident Coordinator in North Korea
SAUVAGE: On the whole it's like a series of events. The first one only was the Khanun typhoon, after that we've had a succession of very heavy rains. What we're seeing is several provinces quite severely affected, and it is possible that a number of villages have been swept away by flash floods. All this will need to be verified. The inter-agency team made of UN agencies, Red Cross and European NGOs are going to be travelling on inter-agency assessment and see what they can. That'll be our first rapid assessment. In terms of numbers what we're getting from the government, and I repeat from the government, so it's not independently verified, is 88 dead and 66-thousand displaced people.
EWART: The fact that as you say the information that you have is still to be independently verified, how much of a difficulty does that therefore pose in dealing with the problems that need to be dealt with, reaching the people that need help?
SAUVAGE: Based on the early information we're able to provide immediate relief through our pre-positioned stocks of emergency health kits and also sanitation kits. We will also be able to release some food from pre-positioned stocks, but any kind of more important intervention that requires a more detailed assessment.
EWART: And presumably also requires the cooperation of the North Korean government?
SAUVAGE: Absolutely, it requires the cooperation and so far we are receiving it. And also making sure if you will that the extent of the damage is attributable to the floods. The infrastructure of the country is really not in good shape, the health system is broken, agriculture is not able at present to provide enough food for everybody. And pumping systems, sanitation systems are in very bad shape. So we want to be careful about whatever disaster we are able to assess is not if you will attributable unfortunately to what was there before.
EWART: Could you see a situation where the new North Korean regime would be prepared to ask for help from outside from other countries?
SAUVAGE: I went to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs where I was officially received, and the government asked for our usual assistance in terms of the agencies that are resident in DPRK. So we will provide aid from our pre-positioned stocks. For the time being there is no reason to expect a larger appeal, such as was done last year for the food emergency.
EWART: But as someone who is perhaps more familiar than most in dealing with North Korean politics, do you sense that there is a change of mood, that they are perhaps more approachable than they were under the previous leader?
SAUVAGE: I find it very early to tell, even when we are resident in the country we do not get to see very closely the changes at the political level. Just like you we follow the same radio stories and read the same websites, but in fact we don't see very much ourselves. My assessment is it's too early to tell whether they'll be fundamental or deep changes into the regime.
EWART: Do you think though that the way that this current crisis as a result of the rains and the floods that have come with it, the way this crisis is handled will be an indicator of how the regime is moving?
SAUVAGE: I think the government is used unfortunately to be faced with floods, it's a country which is prone to natural disasters. And in a country where the infrastructure is so fragile, it's in such bad shape, it doesn't take much for a natural disaster to become a very serious natural disaster. The country has systems and they have ways to respond to this crisis, and they have activated them, and that's what we're seeing taking place for the moment.
EWART: Now you said that the information that you're in possession of is yet to be independently verified. Do you fear that the situation therefore could be much worse, or do you believe the figures you have are as accurate as you might expect at this stage?
SAUVAGE: Even the government told us that these were very preliminary data that they could gather from their national Red Cross and from the country level. Their data doesn't move very well around the country in normal times, so I fully expect that the data will need to be very much adjusted during our assessment this morning and over the following days. It could go either way, it could turn out that it's not as bad as we were fearing, or it could turn out that it is worse than we were fearing.