Mon, Oct 14, 2019 - Page 4 News List

N Korea could be hiding a pig apocalypse


By official accounts, the pig contagion wreaking havoc across Eastern Asia has virtually skipped over North Korea, with a single outbreak reported there in May.

However, wayward feral pigs have stoked concern that North Korean-leader Kim Jong-un’s reclusive state is hiding an African swine fever disaster.

Three wild boars were found dead in border areas separating the two Koreas earlier this month before being tested positive for the viral hemorrhagic disease, officials in South Korea said.

The finding reflects the freedom with which animals roam the 4km-wide buffer zone that divides the nations and creates an involuntary park and refuge for fauna.

It also hints at a spillover of the deadly virus from the North, where unofficial reports indicate the disease is spreading out of control.

South Korea has deployed helicopters to disinfect parts of the 250km border-barrier, near which more than a dozen outbreaks have occurred since the virus was first reported there a month ago.

African swine fever has spread to almost all areas of North Korea, and pigs in the western province of North Pyongan have been “wiped out,” said Lee Hye-hoon, who chairs South Korea’s National Assembly’s intelligence committee, citing the south’s National Intelligence Service.

The virus killed 22 hogs in May on a cooperative farm about 260km north of Pyongyang, near the border with China, the North Korean Ministry of Agriculture said in a May 30 report to the Paris-based World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).

However, since then, there have been no follow-up reports to the group, and scant coverage of the event in state media.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has no information beyond the report received by the OIE, said Wantanee Kalpravidh, the agency’s Bangkok-based regional manager of the Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases.

The FAO is awaiting approval to send a delegate to North Korea, she said in a text message on Friday.

Widespread transmission of African swine fever, which kills most pigs in a week, might put North Korea’s food security in graver jeopardy.

Crop production there is forecast to be smaller than usual for the rest of this year due to below-average rainfall and low water supplies for irrigation, the FAO said last month.

About 40 percent of the population, or 10.1 million people, are estimated to be food-insecure and in urgent need of food assistance, according to results from an UN assessment conducted in April.

African swine fever will worsen hunger and malnutrition, said Cho Chunghi, who fled North Korea in 2011 after spending a decade working for the government’s animal disease control program.

Many North Koreans raise pigs to earn money to buy rice.

“Pork accounts for about 80 percent of North Korea’s protein consumption and with global sanctions taking place, it’s going to be hard for the country to find an alternative protein source,” said Cho, who now works as a researcher at Good Farmers, a non-governmental organization in Seoul that supports developing nations to generate profit through agricultural activities.

“The virus is extremely destructive as people are now unable to make money through raising pigs, while the country’s economy is restrained,” he said.

Pigs raised by individual farms outnumber those on state-owned and collective farms, which will make it almost impossible to halt the spread, especially given North Korea’s inexperience preventing and mitigating epidemics in animals, Cho said.

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