North Korea is facing its worst drought in a century, according to state media. South Hwanghae, North Hwanghae, South Pyongan and South Hamgyong, the country's main rice growing provinces are already heavily affected, and the fear of food shortages is increasing.
"The North's traditional rice belt encompassing South and North Hwanghae provinces has been hit hard, receiving less than half the rain of an average year," said an official at the Korea Meteorological Administration.
It is believed that hundreds of thousands of North Koreans have died during 1990s widespread famine. This drought, though, will probably be less deadly due to recent agricultural reforms. According to the United Nations World Food Program, significant food shortages are common in the North Korea and about a third of children in the country are underfed and malnourished.
North Korea often balances between strong drought and severe floods, however, it is unlikely that any rainfall at this stage would compensate for the dry weather in the last few months which severely hampered preparation for the wheat and rice crops.
The weather front Mei-Yu that usually moves up from China later on in the summer is thought to be able to provide more rain, however there is no guarantee about the side-effects, as it may cause strong floods, as was known to happen in the past.
North Korea is not known to speak openly of its shortages which may indicate they want outside help. The polls indicate that most of the people in South Korea support aid to the North, however, the willingness of other countries to help has greatly diminished in the last 10 years as Pyonyang developed nuclear weapons. Currently the spending of UN agencies is $50m a year, a lot less than the $300m in 2004. Since the great famine of 1990s the farmers have been given greater freedom to sell on the market and the output has risen. Unfortunately, the water shortage also means rice shortage.
According to Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), state news agency, rice planting had finished in more than 441 560 hectares of paddy fields "but at least 136 200 hectares of them are parching up".
Denmark's ambassador to North and South Korea, Thomas Lehman, told Reuters that he had visited drought-hit areas in the North in May. "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," he said. Last year was the lowest rainfall reported in North Korea in the last 30 years.
After series of droughts and floods from 1995 to 1997 North Korea suffered famine. Because more than two million North Koreans are receiving help from UN World Food Program,this food shortage will probably not be on the same scale, although the North Korea is heavily sanctioned under UN resolutions for its nuclear and missile tests back in 2006.
Featured image: Drought by Armin Vogel (CC - Flickr)