SEOUL (Reuters) - Widespread flooding in North Korea appeared to worsen on Monday after 24 hours of torrential rain hit the impoverished state which even in times of good harvest is unable to feed itself.
The floods follow a period of drought and are certain to lift food prices which have been rising sharply. According to defectors contacted by Reuters in neighboring South Korea, rice prices have already risen beyond the reach of ordinary households.
"A heavy downpour on the 29th July, coupled with heavy thunderstorms, have worsened the flood situation for DPRK (North Korea)," the United Nations North Korea office reported on its website http://kp.one.un.org/theme-groups/contingency-planning-and-emergency-response/current-emergencies/.
North Korea's official KCNA news agency said 400 mm (16 inches) of rain had fallen in the 24 hours to Monday morning.
This comes on top of widespread flooding which North Korea says from July 18 to 25 killed 88 people, left tens of thousands homeless and damaged agricultural areas.
"The flooding will result in more hikes in rice prices until the autumn harvest and which were already seen because of the massive drought," Kwon Tae-jin, a senior researcher at Korea Rural Economic Institute, told Reuters.
"It is simply making things worse," he said.
The country has become increasingly prone to flooding because of widespread deforestation.
Defectors said the rice price increase has been worsened by hoarding by middlemen hoping to cash in on economic reforms which the government of new leader Kim jong-un is reported to be planning.
North Korea, which suffered a period of famine in the 1990s, has for years relied of foreign aid to make up for the shortfall in food production.
Even before the latest flooding, a dysfunctional food distribution system, rapid inflation and international sanctions over Pyongyang's weapons programs have created what is thought to be widespread hunger.
South Korea's Unification Ministry said its neighbor had not requested any aid from international agencies.
The U.N. office said the government had requested assistance form resident U.N. agencies and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
(Reporting by Ju-min Park; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Jonathan Thatcher)