Sat, May 18, 2019 - Page 6 News List

N Korea sees worst drought in century

FAMINE:Two UN agencies have estimated that about 10.1 million North Koreans, or 40 percent of the country’s population, are suffering from severe food shortages

AFP, SEOUL

North Korea is experiencing its worst drought in more than a century, official media reported yesterday, days after the World Food Programme (WFP) expressed “very serious concerns” about the situation in the country.

The isolated, impoverished North — which is under several sets of sanctions over its nuclear weapon and ballistic missile programs — has long struggled to feed itself and suffers chronic food shortages.

It last year recorded its worst harvest in a decade, according to the UN, down by 500,000 tonnes as natural disasters combined with its lack of arable land and inefficient agriculture hit production.

In the year to Wednesday, the North had received just 5.63cm of rain or snow, the Rodong Sinmun daily reported yesterday, the lowest since 1917.

Water was running out in the country’s lakes and reservoirs, said the newspaper, the official mouthpiece of the ruling Workers’ Party, adding: “The ongoing drought is causing a significant effect on the cultivation of wheat, barley, corn, potatoes and beans.”

In their most recent estimates, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization and the WFP said that about 10.1 million North Koreans — 40 percent of the population — were suffering from severe food shortages, a similar figure to recent years.

Hundreds of thousands are believed to have died during a famine in the mid-to-late-1990s, a period known as the “Arduous March” in North Korea.

Pyongyang has been frequently condemned by the international community for decades of prioritizing the military and its nuclear weapons program over adequately providing for its people — an imbalance some critics have said the UN’s aid program encourages.

However, neighboring areas have also seen low rainfall this year.

South Korea received just 1.57cm of rain in the same period this year, less than half the 3.64cm last year, the South’s Korea Meteorological Administration said, describing it as a “mild drought.”

Rainfall in northeast China — which includes the provinces of Liaoning and Jilin, which border North Korea — was 2.76cm in the year to Thursday last week, down 55 percent from the same period last year, Chinese National Meteorological Center data showed.

“We have very serious concerns” about the situation in the North, WFP executive director David Beasley said during a visit to the South earlier this week.

Seoul is planning to provide food aid to the North — a politically controversial move after Pyongyang launched several short-range missiles earlier this month with nuclear negotiations deadlocked with the US, its first such tests in more than a year.

“The issue of food aid should be considered from a humanitarian perspective as fellow Koreans, regardless of the security issues,” South Korean National Security Office Director Chung Eui-yong said yesterday.

International sanctions against Pyongyang technically do not ban humanitarian aid, but strict interpretations of restrictions on banking transactions and imports by the North — along with a travel ban for US citizens — have hampered relief groups’ activities.

The North previously reported it was experiencing its “worst drought in 100 years” in June 2015.

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