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Drought threatens nation's food supply

Updated: 2015-06-18 07:44
By Agencies in Seoul (China Daily)

Pyongyang struggles to deal with paddies that are drying up due to the lack of rain

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea has been hit by what it describes as its worst drought in a century, which could worsen its food shortages.

The country suffered a devastating famine in the 1990s and has relied on international food aid, but support has fallen sharply in recent years.

The DPRK's KCNA news agency said late on Tuesday that paddies around the country, including the main rice farming regions of Hwanghae and Phyongan provinces, were drying up for lack of rain. Rice must be partly submerged in order to grow.

"The worst drought in 100 years continues in the DPRK, causing great damage to its agricultural field," KCNA said.

The Republic of Korea's Unification Ministry, which handles the ROK's ties with the DPRK, did not comment on Wednesday on the report.

The DPRK's farm production periodically suffers from droughts and floods in the summer, although the state has learned to cut damage by updating farming methods and switching to crops other than rice in recent years.

Thomas Lehman, Denmark's ambassador to both the DPRK and ROK, said that on a visit to the DPRK late last month, he could "clearly see" attempts to deal with the drought in its fields.

"The lack of water has created a lot of damage to the so-called spring crop, and the rice planting is extremely difficult without sufficient water," said Lehman, who has spoken to UN officials about the drought, and visited drought-hit areas.

The DPRK has mounted a campaign encouraging the public to help out on farms, and is using mobile water pumps run on diesel and longer pipes to draw water into fields.

"Farm managers reported receiving training in dry rice-planting techniques and other measures" to conserve water, said Linda Lewis of the American Friends Service Committee, a group that runs farm projects in the DPRK.

The UN resident coordinator for the DPRK, Ghulam Isaczai, warned last month of a looming crisis due to last year's drought, caused by the lowest rainfall in 30 years.

At the time, Isaczai said he thought the food situation would not be as bad as in previous major droughts, since communities were now more resilient and might have reserves.

In April, the UN called for $111 million to fund crucial humanitarian needs this year in the DPRK, which it said remains drastically underfunded.

Funding for UN agencies in the DPRK fell to less than $50 million in 2014, from $300 million in 2004.

The DPRK relies heavily on hydroelectric power and suffers from chronic electricity shortages, which can be exacerbated by periods of no rain.

The ROK has also received sharply lower rainfall, particularly in the northern regions, which have got about half the rain of an average year, the national weather agency says.

In a separate development, the DPRK returned two ROK nationals back through the truce village of Panmunjom on Wednesday, Seoul's Unification Ministry said.

Park said that the government will investigate how they had entered the DPRK after checking their health conditions, declining to comment on other details.

The two people were known as a couple, surnamed Lee and Jin, aged 59 and 51. Their missing was reported when they traveled near the areas in China bordering the DPRK.

Reuters - Xinhua

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