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North Korea on brink of catastrophic food crisis

A HEATWAVE in North Korea has led to rice, maize and other crops withering in the fields, “with potentially catastrophic effects”, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) says.

The world’s largest disaster relief network warned of a risk of a “full-blown food security crisis” in the isolated country, where a famine in the mid-1990s killed up to three million people.

media_cameraWomen wearing traditional dress shield their faces from the searing sun as they cross a street in Pyongyang. Picture: AFP

It said the worrying situation had been exacerbated by international sanctions imposed due to North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

In a statement issued in Geneva, the IFRC said there had been no rainfall since early July as temperatures soared to an average 39 Celsius across the country, whose official name is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

The next rain was expected in mid-August.

media_cameraWomen push a cart laden with North Korean soft drinks across a road in Pyongyang amid a heatwave. Picture: AFP

The population of 25 million is already stressed and vulnerable with malnutrition among children that could worsen, stunting their growth, it said.

“This is not yet classified as a drought, but rice, maize and other crops are already withering in the fields, with potentially catastrophic effects for the people of DPRK,” said Joseph Muyamboit, the IFRC’s program manager in Pyongyang. “We cannot and must not let this situation become a full-blown food security crisis. We know that previous serious dry spells have disrupted the food supply to a point where it has caused serious health problems and malnutrition across the country.”

media_cameraEven animals in North Korea are suffering from a shortage of food. Photo by: Chen Hao

Drought and floods have long been a seasonal threat in North Korea, which lacks irrigation systems and other infrastructure to ward off natural disasters.

The IFRC was helping the national Red Cross to support 13,700 of the most vulnerable people at risk, in South Hamgyong and South Pyongan provinces.

It had deployed emergency response teams and 20 water pumps to irrigate fields in the hardest-hit areas, it said.

Originally published as N Korea on brink of deadly food crisis

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