North Korea has asked Iran for urgent humanitarian aid to help survive what the North Korean government has called "the worst drought in 100 years."
"[Iran] is duty bound to render humanitarian aid to all countries," the head of the Iranian Red Crescent, Amir Hossein Ziaee, said, according to the Iranian state news agency IRNA. After meeting with the North Korean ambassador to Iran on Tuesday, Kang Sam Hyon, Ziaee said Iran will "spare no efforts," though no details of the aid package were yet announced.
The North Korean state news agency KCNA issued a report that more than 30 percent of rice paddies around the country were "parching up" because of a lack of rain.
South Korea's Unification Ministry, a government agency that works toward a reunited North and South Korea, said rainfall in North Korea was unusually low in May, and food production could decline significantly if that continued.
According to the most recent survey by UNICEF, 28 percent of North Korean children under 5 were chronically malnourished.
In North Korea, the food supply is tightly controlled by the central state and shortages are not uncommon. A shortage known as the Great Famine killed between 2 and 3 percent of the population in the 1990s. In 2013, North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un, initiated minor agricultural reforms that allowed farmers to keep up to 30% of their own crop yields. During the last drought, in 2014, Korea actually increased its agricultural output, according to Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert at the University of Seoul.
It seems that the North Korean government is already taking measures to minimize the drought's impact. "Farm managers reported receiving training in dry rice planting techniques and other measures that they were trying to conserve water," Linda Lewis of the American Friends Service Committee, which runs farm projects in the North, told Reuters on June 17.
The UN says humanitarian operations in the country are severely underfunded, and in April it requested $111 million in additional aid money. Funding for UN agencies that deliver aid to North Korea fell to less than $50 million in 2014, down from $300 million in 2004.
Still, some are skeptical of North Korea's cry for help, noting that in 2001, it announced it was experiencing the worst drought in 1,000 years.
North Korea's request for Iranian aid comes as both countries face international sanctions. In recent years, humanitarian assistance from the US and South Korea have been cut back, as tensions over the North's nuclear program intensified.