A drought in North Korea could lead to huge food shortages this year, the top U.N. official in the country told Reuters in an interview.
Rainfall in 2014, the lowest in records going back 30 years, was 40-60 percent below 2013 levels, and reservoirs are very low, said Ghulam Isaczai, the U.N. resident coordinator. “We’re extremely concerned with the impact of drought which will affect the crop this year severely. And we might be faced with another major incident of food availability or even hunger,” said Isaczai. “It is going to create a huge deficit between the needs and what is available.”
“This is currently the rice-planting season. Normally they submerge the land almost a week or two in advance. But this year, I’ve seen it myself – they’re doing it in the dry, actually planting rice. So what we’re hearing right now is that they’re switching to maize and corn because that requires less water.”
Some farmers, already struggling with a shortage of fuel and equipment, have resorted to using buckets to water seedlings, he said. “What the government confirmed to me is that they’re operating at 50 percent of capacity in terms of power generation. A lot of it is now related to water,” the U.N. official added.
Blackouts in Pyongyang last anything from 8-9 hours to a whole 24 hours and many hospitals are unable to operate.
A famine in the 1990s killed as many as 1 million North Koreans but recently many international donors have been reluctant to help because of Pyongyang’s restrictions on humanitarian workers and international concerns over its nuclear ambitions.