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North Korea Says It's Experiencing Worst Drought in 100 Years

The drought has caused more than a third of rice paddies to dry up, sparking fears of worsening food shortages in a country where the UN estimates a third of children are malnourished.
June 17, 2015, 11:18am
Photo by Jeon Heon-Kyun/EPA

North Korea is experiencing its worst drought in a century, according to its state-run news agency, which could worsen already serious food shortages.

KCNA said more than 30 percent of rice paddies around the country were "parching up" because of a lack of rain.

"The worst drought in 100 years continues in the DPRK, causing great damage to its agricultural field," it said — using the short form of the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea .

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South Korea's Unification Ministry, a department which works towards reunited North and South Korea, said rainfall in North Korea was unusually low in May, and food production could decline significantly if that continued.

The drought is also having a major impact on South Korea, with farmers and residents in the north of the country calling for urgent assistance, according to the Korea Herald.

Stephen Evans, the BBC's Korea correspondent, said it was unusual for North Korea to talk openly of food shortages. "So the very appearance of the report in state media is significant," he noted. "It indicates the situation is serious, and it may well indicate that North Korea wants outside help."

Related: Meet the Men and Women Who Help Rule North Korea From the Shadows

North Korea suffered a devastating famine in the late 1990s that killed more than 500,000 people.

The United Nations World Food Programme, which operates in North Korea, said the country "continues to face regular, significant food shortages" and that almost one in three children is chronically malnourished.

However Andrei Lankov, a professor of Korean Studies at Seoul's Kookmin University, said while a significant proportion of the population is still malnourished, the portrayal of North Korea as a "destitute, starving country" is an outdated cliche.

"Starvation has long since ceased to be a fact of life in North Korea," he wrote on the Al Jazeera website last year. North Korea is "very, very poor indeed" but its economy is gradually growing and "it is clearly not a starving country anymore," he said.

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In a major report on North Korea last year, the UN said the state used food as a means of control over the population, according to the BBC. It has reportedly prioritized those whom the authorities believe to be crucial to maintaining the regime over those deemed expendable.

In 2012, more than 10,000 people reportedly died of hunger in North and South Hwanghae Provinces, said the UN research.

The UN resident coordinator for North Korea, Ghulam Isaczai, warned Reuters in May that a drought in 2014, caused by the lowest rainfall in 30 years, meant a crisis was imminent. But he said he thought the situation would not be as bad as in previous major droughts, since communities were now more resilient and might have reserves.

The UN says humanitarian operations in the country are severely underfunded, calling in April for $111 million to pay for crucial aid, reported Reuters. Funding for UN agencies in North Korea fell to less than $50 million in 2014, down from $300 million in 2004.

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