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North Korea Newsletter 368 (June 25, 2015)

All Headlines 11:00 June 25, 2015

Topic of the Week (part 2)

N. Korea claims worst drought in 100 years

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea has claimed again it is suffering from the worst drought in 100 years, while some foreign experts expressed skepticism, saying that the North may be exaggerating the situation in hopes of getting international aid.

The (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said on June 16 the worst drought in 100 years continues in the country, causing great damage to its agricultural fields.

The KCNA said rice-transplanting has been finished in more than 441,560 hectares of paddies across the country as of June 8, but at least 136,200 hectares of them are becoming parched.

The granaries in North and South Hwanghae provinces and South Pyongan and South Hamgyong provinces have been badly damaged, it claimed.

"Drought dries up rice-seedlings in nearly 80 percent and 58 percent of paddy fields in South and North Hwanghae provinces," the North's mouthpiece said, adding that the water level of reservoirs is at its lowest, while rivers and streams are getting dry.

North Korea experts expect the country's grain production this year to drop substantially if the drought continues through July, which could deal a further blow to its chronic food shortage problem.

A severe drought may reduce North Korea's rice harvest by 12 percent this year from a year earlier, a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. showed on June 20, warning of the worsening food shortage in the impoverished country.

The latest FAO report put North Korea's rice production at an estimated 2.3 million tons for this year, compared with the country's rice harvest of 2.6 million tons a year earlier.

The estimated production may be less than the average amount of rice produced annually over the past five years, it added.

About one-fourth of North Korea's total 544,000 hectares of rice paddies are being affected by the drought, the report also noted.

The drought may also eat into the country's production of double crop products, like potatoes, wheat and barley, according to the report, which put the estimated amount at 277,000 tons this year.

North Korea's North Hwanghae Province, which accounts for a majority of crop production, is sustaining severe damage from the drought, the report said.

North Korea is also reported to be suffering from severe electricity shortages as power generation in hydro power plants, which account for more than 60 percent of the North's electricity generation, has been hit hard by the drought.

Reuters reported on May 30 that many hydro power plants in North Korea have suspended operation, reducing the nation's power generation by half.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, North Korea's electricity generation stood at 19 billion kilowatts in 2012, less than 5 percent of South Korea's electricity generation in the same year.

There are also reports that North Korea's claim of the "worst drought in 100 years" was exaggerated.

The drought now gripping North Korea is not yet a "catastrophe," a U.S. agricultural expert said on June 18, suggesting that the socialist country may be exaggerating the situation.

The report came days after the South's unification ministry forecast that the North's grain production will likely drop by up to 20 percent this year from 2014 if a shortage of rainfall continues until early July.

"We need to be a bit cautious before anticipating a new disaster," said Randall Ireson in an article carried by the website 38 North, citing previous examples in which the North warned of a disaster, but the situation later improved.

"Early last year, the DPRK government also warned about a drought crisis, but later rains allowed a recovery -- while rice production fell about 10 percent from 2013, maize production hit a new high," he said.

In 2012, the North also claimed another "worst drought in a century," but ultimately a harvest of 4.92 million tons of grain equivalent, which is consistent with the surrounding years, ensued, the expert said.

"The KCNA article claims that no rain has fallen in South and North Hwanghae provinces. That is hyperbole," he said, adding that precipitation data show a total of 181 millimeters at Haeju and 102 mm at Sariwon since March.

"While substantially below the historical average (330 mm for Haeju, unavailable at Sariwon), it is hardly 'no rain,'" he said.

Rain has also fallen in the last few days in what could be the beginning of an annual monsoon season, he said.

"So while one has a right to be concerned, it's not yet a catastrophe. If the rains of the last few days presage the arrival of the monsoon, then all may turn out fine. If there's no change in the next couple of weeks, then we should start to worry," he said.

The U.S. State Department also has ruled out a plan to give aid to North Korea in relation with the current drought.

The Voice of America reported on June 3, quoting a department spokesman, that the department has no plan to offer aid to North Korea at present and North Korea has not asked the U.S. for help yet.

Meanwhile, South Korea said it is ready to support North Korea, Seoul's pointman on inter-Korean affairs has said.

Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo said on June 24 that Seoul is willing to offer the necessary support to the North if the North's situation deteriorates, but added that the South will wait for Pyongyang's request.

"At a time when the two Koreas are coping with drought, I think that this situation can be a chance to promote cooperation," Hong said in a meeting with a group of reporters. "If North Korea faces tougher situations, South Korea is willing to provide the necessary support to North Korea."

He did not elaborate on the kinds of support.

Seoul, however, does not have any immediate plans to make such a proposal to the North pre-emptively, he said, hinting that Seoul needs Pyongyang's request for help.

"The South is carefully reviewing how to approach this matter," he added.

In 2014, the North reported its lowest amount of rainfall in 15 years and the United Nations has warned that North Korea is likely to suffer from serious food shortages this year.

The North has relied on international handouts since 1995 to help feed its people in the face of chronic food shortages.

A U.N. report showed that about 70 percent of North Korea's 24.6 million people suffer from food shortages and 1.8 million, including children and pregnant women, are in need of nutrition.

Meanwhile, Hong expressed regret over the North's boycott of the upcoming Summer Universiade in South Korea due to political reasons, saying that the sports competition could be a good chance for dialogue.

The North issued a rare statement on June 15 that it is ready to hold dialogue with Seoul if certain conditions are met, including the suspension of the South's joint military drills with the United States. North Korea, however, took tough measures less than 10 days after the dialogue proposal, including the boycott of the Universiade and sentencing two South Koreans it has detained to lifetime compulsory labor, accusing them of spying for South Korea's intelligence agency,
(END)

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