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North Korea Suffers Worst Drought In 40 Years, Major Famine at Risk

North Korean children. Taken somewhere in North Hwanghae province, on the way from Kaesŏng to Haeju. June, 2008. (Photo: Flickr, stephan)
North Korean children. Taken somewhere in North Hwanghae province, on the way from Kaesŏng to Haeju. June, 2008. (Photo: Flickr, stephan)

“As yet it’s not really clear how bad things are as, with everything related to North Korea, the data is hardly transparent.”

North Korea is suffering through a severe drought following rain and snowfall totals this year that were the lowest in the last 37 years. The drought situation risks being even more severe following concerns raised by the United Nations (U.N.) over a lack of food in the country due to economic sanctions. As a result, about 10.1 million North Koreans do not have enough food until the next harvest.

North Korea only received 2.14 inches of rain or snow between January and early May of this year, the lowest in the same timeframe since 1982, as Aljazeera reported. North Korea’s state news agency KCNA described the situation as an “extreme drought.”

The World Food Program (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), both U.N. food agencies, released a joint report in April which revealed North Korean crop totals in 2018 were the lowest since 2008 – meaning that 40 percent of the country’s population (or around 10 million people) are in dire need of food.

The situation will be more severe if there is no immediate humanitarian act taken, the report said.

“Many families survive on a monotonous diet of rice and kimchi most of the year, eating very little protein,” said Nicolas Bidault, co-lead of the mission and WFP Senior Regional Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping (VAM) Adviser. “This is worrying because many communities are already extremely vulnerable and any further cuts to already minimal food rations, could push them deep into a hunger crisis,” he added.

Through the year, North Koreans have tried to survive by consuming 300 grams of food every day, the report stated.

North Koreans badly need water now, and the country is trying hard to prevent damage caused by the drought, said the country’s largest daily paper, Rodong Sinmun.

How Severe is the Drought?

The International Red Cross warned the drought was especially devasting to children and breastfeeding women.

“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.

“As yet it’s not really clear how bad things are as, with everything related to North Korea, the data is hardly transparent,” Oliver Hotham from NK News told the BBC.

If the official data is accurate, North Korea needs to import 1.5 million tons of food to offset production shortage, Hotham added.

Not the First Drought in Recent Years For North Korea

In 2017, North Korea suffered a severe drought which also damaged the production of staple foods such as corn, potato, rice and soybeans. While there was no government information released about the impact of the drought later reports said many died and were malnourished.

Hotham explained to the BBC that inadequate agriculture technology and the country’s current health and food problems have increased North Korea’s vulnerability to such a natural disaster.

Hundreds of thousands of North Koreans were reported to have died from a severe famine in the 1990s, which forced the country to seek aid from international agencies for the first time.

Will Washington Relax Sanctions?

The meeting between President Donald Trump and his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong-Un in Hanoi, Vietnam last February ended with no agreement. Both have a different perspective on the denuclearization process.

Washington wants Pyongyang to stop all nuclear programs before lifting sanctions. While North Korea wants an assurance that the U.S. at least remove half the sanctions before complete denuclearization.

North Korea tested missiles twice last week in what many analysts saw as a form of frustration over the faltered talks. The U.S responded by seizing a North Korean cargo ship containing coal.

“This act of dispossession has clearly indicated that the United States is indeed a gangster country that does not care at all about international laws,” the North Korean ambassador to the United Nations said in a letter sent to Guterres dated Friday, according to North Korea’s KCNA news agency.

The U.S. Justice Department accuses the ship of making illicit coal shipments made in violation of sanctions. The cargo ship, known as the “Wise Honest,” was seized and impounded to American Samoa.

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Yasmeen Rasidi

Yasmeen is a writer and political science graduate of the National University, Jakarta. She covers a variety of topics for Citizen Truth including the Asia and Pacific region, international conflicts and press freedom issues. Yasmeen had worked for Xinhua Indonesia and GeoStrategist previously. She writes from Jakarta, Indonesia.

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