North Korea seeing worst drought in a century as UN warns of ‘serious concerns’ for food, people
- It recorded its worst harvest for a decade last year, according to the United Nations, down by 500,000 tonnes as natural disasters combined with its lack of arable land and inefficient agriculture to hit production
North Korea is experiencing its worst drought in over a century, official media reported on Friday, days after the World Food Programme expressed “very serious concerns” about the situation in the country.
It recorded its worst harvest for a decade last year, according to the United Nations, down by 500,000 tonnes as natural disasters combined with its lack of arable land and inefficient agriculture to hit production.
In the year to Wednesday the North received just 56.3 millimetres of rain or snow, the Rodong Sinmun newspaper reported Friday, the lowest since 1917.
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Water was running out in the country’s lakes and reservoirs, said the paper, 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 Organisation and the World Food Programme (WFP) said about 10.1 million North Koreans – 40 per cent 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 the North.
Pyongyang has been frequently condemned by the international community for decades of prioritising the military and its nuclear weapons programme over adequately providing for its people – an imbalance some critics say the UN’s aid programme encourages.
But neighbouring areas are also seeing low rainfall this year.
The South received just 157mm of rain in the same period this year, less than half the 364mm in 2018, Seoul’s Korea Meteorological Administration said, describing it as a “mild drought”.
And according to China’s National Meteorological Centre, rainfall in northeast China – which includes the provinces of Liaoning and Jilin, which border North Korea – was 27.6mm in the year to May 9, down 55 per cent on 2018.
“We have very serious concerns” about the situation in the North, WFP’s executive director David Beasley said during a visit to the South earlier this week.
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South Korea said on Friday that it has decided to offer food support for Pyongyang worth US$8 million.
Unification Ministry spokesman Lee Sang Min said the funds will be provided through the WFP and the Unicef, and will mainly be used to help highly vulnerable groups, including children and pregnant women.
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 American citizens – have hampered relief groups’ activities.
The North previously reported it was experiencing its “worst drought in 100 years” in June 2015.