North Korea is experiencing its worst drought in over a century, according to its state media, days after the United Nations‘ World Food Programme (WFP) expressed “very serious concerns” about the situation in the country.
In the year to Wednesday, the country received just 56.3mm of rain or snow, the Rodong Sinmun newspaper reported on Friday, the lowest since 1917.
Water was running out in the country’s lakes and reservoirs, said the paper.
“The ongoing drought is causing a significant effect on the cultivation of wheat, barley, corn, potatoes and beans,” the report said.
In their most recent estimates, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation and WFP said about 10.1 million North Koreans – 40 percent of the population – were suffering from severe food shortages, a similar figure to recent years.
“We have very serious concerns” about the situation in North Korea, WFP’s executive director David Beasley said during a visit to South Korea earlier this week.
Last week, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) also raised alarm over the drought.
“We are particularly concerned about the impact that this early drought will have on children and adults who are already struggling to survive,” said Mohamed Babiker, the head of IFRC’s country office in North Korea.
“Even before this drought, one in five children under five years old was stunted because of poor nutrition. We are concerned that these children will not be able to cope with further stress on their bodies,” he said.
Help from Seoul
South Korea is planning to provide food aid to the North – a politically controversial move after Pyongyang launched several short-range devices earlier this month with nuclear negotiations deadlocked with the United States, its first such tests for 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 Korea‘s NSA Chung Eui-yong said on Friday.
International sanctions against Pyongyang technically do not ban humanitarian aid, but strict interpretations of restrictions on banking transactions and imports by North Korea – along with a travel ban for American citizens – have hampered relief groups’ activities.
The last time North Korea reported it was experiencing its “worst drought in 100 years” was in June 2015.
The isolated, impoverished country – which is under several sets of sanctions over its nuclear weapon and ballistic missile programmes – has long struggled to feed itself, and suffers chronic food shortages.