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Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

16 August 2007

Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Margareta Wahlström, updated correspondents today on United Nations relief efforts to alleviate the impacts of the recent floods in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and to respond to the devastation unfolding in Peru following yesterday’s earthquake.

On the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, she said that the magnitude of the current crisis was reminiscent of last year’s floods and those of 10 years ago. According to assessments done by the United Nations team in the country, together with Government ministries, the recent flooding had left some 300,000 homeless, some 5,000 houses destroyed, and some 90,000 hectares of agricultural land flooded. Sixty people were missing and 83 people had died. Hundreds of bridges had been destroyed and power supplies had also been affected.

The emergency came in the wake of the country’s food deficit of 1 million metric tons at the start of the year, to which the World Food Programme (WFP) had provided some support, she noted.

The Government had welcomed assistance, she said. Together with the United Nations agencies such as the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organization (WHO), the WFP, and the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Pyongyang, it was defining needs, including for food, medical supplies and emergency shelter. Two assessment missions had led to the conclusions, among others, that 10 per cent of the population in the south had been affected and 50 per cent of health clinics had been destroyed. The United Nations, which had consulted with the country’s Mission in New York, and had offered assistance, and would meet tomorrow with donor countries to see what resources could be mobilized.

Turning to the devastation in Peru, Ms. Wahlström said that last night’s earthquake, which hit Ica province with a magnitude of 7.9 approximately 160 kilometres southeast of Lima, killed some 450 people and injured 1,500 others. Almost 400 houses had been destroyed, and it was likely that that number would rise, since the old urban areas with houses not prepared for earthquakes had been most affected. Power and communication had also been disrupted.

Search and rescue efforts were well organized, and the Government had declared a state of emergency in the province, she said. Existing in-country partnerships with the United Nations system had already mobilized almost $1 million. The United Nations Disaster Assessment Team (UNDAC) was on “red alert” to go, and search and rescue teams were on standby. In addition, the Government had called for meetings with the donor community in Lima. The United Nations stood ready to provide Peru with more resources if the Government needed it.

In addition, she said that a strong, but shallow earthquake had occurred close to the Solomon Islands. According to information received, there had not been any damage.

Responding to several questions about the situation in Peru, Ms. Wahlström said that the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) had immediately released $100,000 in emergency funds. The United Nations search and rescue teams for Latin America were on standby in Panama, but they had not been sent to Peru because that country was prone to natural disasters and, thus, had a well-organized response system. The figure of 450 deaths had been provided by the Peruvian national disaster management authority.

After the initial search and rescue, she said that the United Nations would assist in rebuilding and providing emergency shelter, including heating, as it was winter. She then described how OCHA’s initial response to disasters was organized -- including through pre-practiced scenarios, reporting situations and press briefings -- after an alert through the global early warning systems was received.

To questions concerning the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, she said that people from the United Nations agencies had visited affected areas in order to assess the situation on the ground. They had been able to affirm the situation as reported. A more careful assessment was needed, however, in order to compare the current situation to former disasters, but there was no doubt about the seriousness of the one under way. Because the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was a deforested country, floods immediately affected agricultural lands. That had been the cause of the disaster in the mid-90s as well.

There was no doubt about the magnitude of the disaster, she added. The rains had been going on for just a week, but they already constituted 50 per cent of the country’s yearly precipitation. As in most of Asia, the army, the civil protection authorities, and organizations such as the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies had been the first ones to respond.

As for how aid was delivered in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Ms. Wahlström stressed that delivery was done in the traditional way of humanitarian programmes. Depending on the magnitude of the action needed, OCHA would strengthen its presence in the country with staff from New York to assist in assessments and reporting. It remained to be seen if more staff was needed for programme delivery. The numbers of local staff was not large, as agencies cooperated with the Ministries of Health and Education in such areas as school feeding programmes. The dialogue with the Government was going well, and she was optimistic that agencies would continue to have access for assessments.

Regarding the donors meeting, she said that few donors were in New York in August, but she was convinced that countries from the traditional donor group would show up, including representatives from the United States, Japan and Europe, as well as from the Republic of Korea. That group of countries always stood ready to support OCHA, even in short-term disaster response.

Asked about Sri Lanka, Ms. Wahlström said there would be follow-up to the mission of Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes, notwithstanding the media coverage. The humanitarian commitments made would be pursued, as well as “the expressions of positive will for cooperation on the part of the senior officials of the Sri Lanka Government that Mr. Holmes had the opportunity to meet when he was there”.

Addressing a question about OCHA’s role in the peace process between the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) had the Ugandan Government, specifically LRA’s demand for $2 million for an airstrip, she said that OCHA had been most instrumental in the beginning of the peace process, mainly because it had been present in the south of the Sudan. As that peace process progressed, OCHA’s role became one of essentially logistics support. There had been an administrative obstacle to release funds for the process. The peace process was in suspension, not only due to lack of funds, but because the process was very complicated and people needed time to regain confidence in each other. OCHA had issued a request to donors for $7.7 million, of which half had been pledged. However, the full $7.7 million was needed to sustain the peace process. She doubted that that amount included the $2 million for the airstrip.

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For information media • not an official record

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