US says it will not provide food aid to North Korea during its worst drought in 100 years

North Korea is in the midst of a severe drought, its state news agency reported,

North Korea is in the midst of a severe drought, its state news agency reported, raising fears of worsening food shortages in the impoverished country, where child malnutrition is a persistent problem.

“The worst drought in 100 years continues in the D.P.R.K., causing great damage to its agricultural field,” the Korean Central News Agency said in a report late Tuesday, using an abbreviation for North Korea’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

There was no evidence that the drought was the worst in a century. ButUnited Nations officials recently expressed growing concern about the lack of rain. In April, the United Nations called for $111 million to fund its humanitarian operations in North Korea, saying that 70 percent of the country’s 25 million people were “food insecure.”

Much of the Korean Peninsula has had unusually dry weather in recent weeks, at a crucial time for rice farming when seedlings are transplanted. Rice is a staple for both Koreas. Humanitarian officials have warned that North Koreans, especially children, nursing mothers and other vulnerable people, are likely to suffer worse food shortages than in most years because of the drought.

The North Korean report on Tuesday said that more than 30 percent of the country’s rice paddies were drying up. The Unification Ministry of South Korea said last week that crop production in the North could fall by 15 percent to 20 percent from last year if the drought continued into early July, depriving rice seedlings of the water they need to take root and grow.

Decades of deforestation and soil erosion, as well as government mismanagement, have left North Korea particularly vulnerable to drought and floods. A famine in the late 1990s killed hundreds of thousands of people by the North Korean government’s own admission; other estimates put the death toll at up to three million. That famine set off an outflow of North Korean refugees that continues today.

North Korea still faces chronic food shortages, even as it has improved its farming methods with help from international experts. The World Food Program and other agencies have called for humanitarian aid every year, noting that almost a third of North Korean children under five are stunted because of malnutrition.

But donors have given less during the past decade as the North has continued its nuclear weapons program and as attention has been drawn to its human rights abuses. The North’s refusal to allow adequate monitoring of aid distribution has also put off some donors, who fear that aid would be misallocated.


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