(ATTN: ADDS unification ministry's comments on N. Korea in para 10)
By Koh Byung-joon and Yi Wonju
SEOUL, Aug. 12 (Yonhap) -- A top North Korean official visited a flood-hit county in the country's western area, calling for stepped-up efforts to quickly rehabilitate the damage caused by recent heavy downpours, state media said Wednesday.
Pak Pong-ju, vice chairman of the State Affairs Commission, toured various places, including a co-op farm, in Taechong-ri of Unpha County in North Hwanghae Province and learned "in detail about flood damage and the rehabilitation," according to the Korean Central News Agency.
"He underlined the need to rearrange all the waterways in the farm under a well-worked-out plan, minimize the damage in the rainy season by quickly rehabilitating the drain pumping stations, and take scientific and technological care for the healthy growth of flood-afflicted crops," the KCNA said.
Party officials and their families have also provided "lots of materials for the earlier stabilization of the living of the inhabitants in the damaged area," the KCNA added.
Pak's trip came after leader Kim Jong-un visited the county last week and instructed officials to release grain from his special stock to the flood victims and facilitate the use of necessary supplies in rebuilding the damaged sites.
Earlier this week, state media said that a shipment of grain Kim promised had reached those in need.
The county has been one of areas hardest-hit by recent heavy rainfall in the North. State media earlier reported that nearly 730 homes and 600 hectares of rice fields have been flooded and 179 homes destroyed in the county after a levee broke as heavy rainfall pounded the area for days.
The United Nations said Tuesday (U.S. time) it is willing to help North Korea recover from the flood damage, as "unusually heavy rains" hit the country this month.
"The U.N. team is in contact with authorities and stands ready to support its response to the most vulnerable communities if required and requested," Stephane Dujarric, spokesperson for the U.N. chief, said in a press briefing.
Seoul's unification ministry reiterated Wednesday that it is willing to provide humanitarian assistance to North Korea irrespective of political considerations but noted that it has no immediate plan to help with the North's rehabilitation efforts, given that little information is available on the damage there.
North Korea is known to be vulnerable to flooding due to poor irrigation and deforestation. Last summer, a strong typhoon pummeled the North, wreaking havoc on its farming areas.
The recent heavy downpours came as the North has been striving to prevent the flow of the new coronavirus on to its soil. It recently declared a state of emergency and put the border town of Kaesong under lockdown, claiming that a "runaway" defector suspected of COVID-19 infection came back from the South.
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