North Korea faces further food shortages as production in the country’s main growing region is expected to drop by half due to the effects of a drought, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation said.
UN representatives visited the country’s breadbasket in North Hwanghae and South Hwanghae provinces on Wednesday last week and found that potato, wheat and barley harvests were at risk of being cut by up to 50 percent in drought-hit areas.
Wells are dry and reservoir levels are low following below-normal rainfall and snowfall last year and early this year, the UN said in a statement.
“We don’t have enough information to say if people are starving or not,” United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation senior economist Liliana Balbi told reporters on Thursday. “But the situation is serious. They are on the borderline.”
North Korean state media have called it: “The worst drought in 100 years.”
The latest El Nino weather phenomenon is responsible for much of the current dryness, the UN report said.
In addition to the drought, the government has not properly maintained irrigation canals and other farm infrastructure, Balbi said.
Rice production this year is expected to be 2.3 million tonnes, 12 percent below last year’s shriveled output and considerably lower than the previous five-year average, the UN said.
Rice plantings face a “severe contraction” the UN said, based on preliminary information garnered from inside the reclusive state.
North Korea is under UN sanctions because of its banned nuclear program and missile launches.
The number of hungry people in North Korea has more than doubled in the past two decades, rising to 10.5 million last year from 4.8 million in 1990, according to a UN report released last month.
The country suffered famine in the 1990’s and has relied on international food aid since. However, support for North Korea has fallen sharply in recent years, because of its curbs on humanitarian workers and reluctance to allow monitoring of food distribution.
Funding for UN agencies in North Korea plunged to less than US$50 million last year from US$300 million in 2004.
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