North Korean streets flooded as heavy rains exacerbate economic crisis

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korean towns along the border with China were flooded this week after heavy rain, threatening to exacerbate an already critical food and economic situation in the country.

North Korea state broadcasters said the city of Sinuiju had reported its heaviest rainfall of the year on Thursday, with at least 132.5 mm (5.2 inches) of rain by 4 p.m.

Video footage showed buses and other vehicles driving through water that had filled intersections, while pedestrians waded nearby.

To the east, in North Hamgyong Province, officials were working to ensure water supplies remained sanitary by supervising sewage disposal and ensuring that residents boiled water before drinking, state news agency KCNA reported.

North Korea has reported an epidemic of an unspecified intestinal disease - suspected by South Korean officials to be cholera or typhoid - and has blamed foreign objects from the border with South Korea for sparking a COVID-19 outbreak.

The natural disasters and epidemics may exacerbate food shortages in North Korea, which is under international sanctions over its nuclear weapons and missile programmes, and has closed its borders to most trade to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

An annual United Nations report on food security released on Thursday found that the percentage of undernourished North Koreans reached 41.6% from 2019 to 2021, compared with 33.8% from 2004 to 2006.

In the south, North Korea appeared to have released water from a dam near its border with South Korea, prompting vacationers in the neighbouring country to evacuate as water levels on the Imjin River rose on Monday.

(Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Kim Coghill)