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North Korea

Food shortage fears as North Korea endures worst drought in 15 years: UN

Help from South Korea and the United States has been drastically cut over the past decade amid soaring tensions over the missile programmes

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 July, 2017, 5:38pm
UPDATED : Friday, 21 July, 2017, 5:38pm

North Korea is facing severe food shortages after being hit by its worst drought in more than 15 years, the UN said, calling for urgent food imports to stop children going hungry.

A severe lack of rainfall over the first half of this year has badly damaged vital harvests in a country where malnutrition is already widespread, a report by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said.

Seasonal rainfall has dropped below 2001 levels and could cause “a sharp deterioration in food security conditions of a large part of the population”, said Vincent Martin, FAO representative in China and North Korea.

“Immediate interventions are needed to support affected farmers and prevent undesirable coping strategies for the most vulnerable, such as reducing daily food intakes,” Martin added.

The North has periodically been hit by famine in recent decades, with hundreds of thousands of people dying during the 1990s – a period known in the country as the Arduous March.

Even in good years, more than 40 per cent of the population is categorised by the UN as undernourished.

But rainfall over the first half of this year has been well below the levels of 2001, when a particularly bad drought caused the country’s cereal crop production to hit unprecedented lows.

In some key agricultural provinces, rainfall from April to June was 50 per cent below average.

Mismanagement is widely blamed for food shortages in the impoverished country, with some critics pointing to the nation’s vast expenditure on its nuclear and missile programmes at the cost of investment in agriculture.

International food aid, especially from South Korea and the United States, has been drastically cut over the past decade amid soaring tensions over the missile programmes.

Frequent floods and droughts, as well as a lack of quality soil, seeds, fertiliser and equipment, are also to blame.

The FAO, which maintains a permanent office in North Korea, said more than 50,000 hectares of farmland had been severely affected by this year’s prolonged drought, particularly crops of rice, maize, potatoes and soybean.

Production of 2017 early season crops has plunged by more than 30 per cent, from 450 000 tonnes in 2016 to 310, 000 tonnes, the FAO report said.

Women, children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to food shortages, with undernutrition a major cause of maternal and child mortality. About 28 per cent of North Korean children under the age of five are stunted.