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North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has visited a rice-growing area devastated by a typhoon on Thursday, as the reclusive country reels from back-to-back natural and manmade catastrophes.
Photos released by state media of the authoritarian leader inspecting fields alongside mask-wearing officials appeared to be framed to convey his benevolence as citizens struggle to cope with the impact of severe monsoon flooding, and the economic toll of the pandemic and ongoing global sanctions.
Typhoon Bavi slammed into the country’s southwestern province of Hwanghae, dealing a damaging blow to its corn stalks, rice paddies and other crops, and raising fears of increased hunger among an already malnourished population.
Ten million people are reported by the United Nations to be suffering from food insecurity, living from harvest to harvest. The country also suffers from years of neglected infrastructure, which exacerbates the effects of natural disasters.
According to the Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the North's ruling party, the typhoon hit hundreds of acres of farming land, felled trees and flooded houses and roads.
During his visit Kim stressed the need to "direct efforts to minimise the damage in the agricultural field in particular and reduction in the harvest," reported Yonhap, the South Korean newswire, citing the North’s state media.
"It is one of top-priority tasks to be surely carried out by our party to go among the people and encourage and sincerely help them when they are in trouble and feel difficult,” he said.
Last week Kim made an unusually frank admission that North Korea’s economic progress has been “seriously delayed,” pledging to unveil a new five-year economic development plan by this coming January.
It was the latest indication that his regime is feeling the pressure of crippling international sanctions to curb its nuclear weapons ambitions, which have collided with one of the longest monsoon seasons on record and the lockdown of remaining trade routes in an effort to keep the coronavirus at bay.
Officially the hermit kingdom has only had one suspected case of Covid-19 but it was never confirmed.
However, earlier this week, in a rare display of urgency, Kim publicly lamented unspecified "defects" and "shortcomings" in the country's' anti-virus campaign and urged that they be corrected swiftly. He also raised the alarm about the incoming typhoon and urged adequate preparation.
This was followed by country's state TV network providing unprecedented rare real-time coverage of damage caused by wind gusts and rainfalls.
South Korea's weather agency said the typhoon had a maximum wind speed of 96 mph and was forecast as one of the strongest to hit the peninsula this year.