A severe drought that hit North Korea in May has resulted in major damage to the output of this year’s harvest, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) reported on Thursday.
The drought — a product of what North Korean media described as the lowest average nationwide precipitation since 1917 — has “cut by half the expected production of a critical harvest,” the IFRC said, and “has destroyed crops that would have been harvested between June and September.”
It followed a year which saw food production fall to 12 percent less than 2017, the Red Cross noted, and stands to worsen the already-dire food situation in the North.
“We need to act quickly to ensure that what can be saved from this harvest is saved, and to safeguard the food security of people who don’t have the resources to cope with even a small food shortfall,” Mohamed Babiker, head of the IFRC’s DPRK country office, said on Thursday.
“We are already seeing the impacts of this drought on vulnerable people,” he continued. “Rates of malnutrition and water borne diseases like diarrhea and colitis are on the rise.”
Reports of a severe drought in North Korea began to emerge in early May, with a headline in ruling party organ the Rodong Sinmun calling on citizens to “turn out in the struggle to prevent drought damage vigorously.”
Following the news, the IFRC issued an early assessment estimating that the water shortages would cut harvest output by half, releasing nearly 250,000 CHF from its Disaster Emergency Relief Fund as part of efforts to fight the effects of the drought.
The Red Cross in its statement on Thursday said it was calling for 472,000 CHF “to provide fertilizers, herbicides, irrigation and water and sanitation supplies to improve crop yields and stem the spread of water borne diseases in the most affected communities in North Phyongan province.”
Thursday’s estimate is based on the results of a joint IFRC and DPRK Red Cross assessment conducted in South Hamgyong Province in May, the group said.
“The assessment found that the expected early harvest for three counties in South Hamgyong province was between 1.5 to 2 metric tons per hectare compared to a potential early harvest of 4 and 4.5 metric tons with irrigation,” IFRC spokesperson Gitte Rabol told NK News.
Reports of an ongoing drought came on the heels of a joint food security assessment from UN agencies working in the DPRK which concluded that 10.1 million in the country — 40 percent of the population — were food insecure.
Some cast doubt on that report’s veracity, however, with a round-table of expert opinion by NK News‘s sister site NK Pro suggesting that assessments of a pending “crisis” may be exaggerated.
North Korea must now also prepare for a new challenge from the elements as the peninsula braces for the annual monsoon season.
The DPRK is often ill-equipped to deal with prolonged heavy rain, with August last year having seen dozens killed and tens of thousands displaced by flooding in Kangwon and South Hamgyong provinces.
Edited by James Fretwell
Featured image: KCNA