North Korea is reporting a serious drought that could worsen already critical food shortages, but help is unlikely to come from the US and South Korea following Pyongyang’s widely criticized rocket launch.
North Korea has had little rain since April 27, with the country’s western coastal areas particularly hard hit, according to a government weather agency in Pyongyang. The dry spell threatened to damage crops, officials said, as the country enters planting season and food supplies from the last harvest dwindle.
In at least one area of South Pyongan Province the fields appear parched and cracked, and farmers complained of extreme drought conditions.
“I’ve been working at the farm for more than 30 years, but I have never experienced this kind of severe drought,” said An Song Min, a farmer in the Nampho area.
It was not clear whether the conditions around Nampho were representative of a wider region. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said it had not yet visited the affected regions to confirm the extent and severity of the reported drought.
North Korea has suffered chronic food shortages for the past two decades because of economic and agricultural mismanagement as well as natural disasters.
North Korean state media have publicized the drought, but has not asked for international handouts. The country’s past appeals for food aid have been met with some skepticism amid worries that aid would be diverted to the military and the Pyongyang elite without reaching the hungry.
The US government suspended food handouts to North Korea in 2009 after Pyongyang expelled foreign food distribution monitors.
In February, the US reversed course and agreed to provide 240,000 metric tons of food aid in exchange for a freeze in nuclear and missile activities.
However, the deal collapsed after North Korea launched a long-range rocket last month in what it called an attempt to send a satellite into space to study the weather.
The launch was widely criticized by the US and others as a thinly disguised attempt to test missile technology in violation of both the US food deal and UN bans on North Korean ballistic tests.
“The US would like to get to a place where we could once again contemplate providing nutritional assistance to North Korea,” Glyn Davies, the top US envoy for North Korea, said last week.
Pyongyang is heavily reliant on its only major ally, China, for diplomatic protection in the UN and for much of its food, trade and oil.
After taking office in 2008, South Korea’s government cut off direct food aid that North Korea received from previous liberal governments, saying Pyongyang should first take steps toward nuclear disarmament.
North Korea’s dry spell is expected to last until the end of the month, the country’s State Hydrometeorological Administration said.
Bureaucrats and workers have been mobilized to irrigate farms, repair wells and keep water-pumping equipment operating, state media reported.
Percy Misika, the FAO’s representative for China, North Korea and Mongolia, said FAO officials are trying to visit areas suffering from a lack of rain.
“If it’s going to last for one or two weeks more, it’s going to be critical, but if it’s a shorter period of time there could be hope,” he said.