Koreas Hit By Worst Drought In Century
Published: June 27, 2012 (Issue # 1715)
KOHYON-RI, North Korea — North Korea dispatched soldiers to pour buckets of water on parched fields and South Korean officials scrambled to save a rare mollusk threatened by the heat as the worst dry spell in a century gripped the Korean peninsula.
Parts of North Korea are experiencing the most severe drought since record keeping began nearly 105 years ago, meteorological officials in Pyongyang and Seoul said Tuesday.
The protracted drought is heightening worries about North Korea’s ability to feed its people.
Two-thirds of North Korea’s 24 million people faced chronic food shortages, the United Nations said earlier this month while asking donors for $198 million in humanitarian aid for the country.
Even in South Phyongan and North and South Hwanghae provinces, which are traditionally North Korea’s “breadbasket,” thousands of hectares of crops are withering away despite good irrigation systems, local officials said.
Reservoirs are drying up, creating irrigation problems for farmers, said Ri Sun Pom, chairman of the Rural Economy Committee of Hwangju County.
A group of female soldiers with yellow towels tied around their heads fanned out across a farm in Kohyon-ri, Hwangju county, North Hwanghae province, with buckets to help water the fields. An ox pulled a cart loaded with a barrel of water while fire engines and oil tankers were mobilized to help transport water.
The North Korean villages of Kohyon-ri and Ryongchon-ri were among several areas that journalists visited in recent days.
Pak Tok Gwan, management board chairman of the Ryongchon Cooperative Farm in North Korea, said late last week that the farm could lose half its corn without early rain.
Mountainous North Korea, where less than 20 percent of the land is arable, has relied on outside food aid to help make up for a chronic shortage since a series of natural disasters and outmoded agricultural practices led to a famine in the 1990s.
North Korean farmers still face a shortage of fuel, tractors, quality seeds and fertilizer, the UN said in a report earlier this month. Many irrigation systems rely on electrically powered pumping stations in a country with unstable power supplies, the report noted.
On Tuesday, North Korean state media reported record-high temperatures in Pyongyang and other cities in the southwest.
South Korean officials also reported the worst drought in more than a century in some areas after nearly two months without significant rainfall, raising worries about damage to crops and a dangerous drop in water levels in the nation’s reservoirs.
“The worst drought in 104 years is causing damage to our agricultural and livestock industries, resulting in price hikes in some farm products,” Finance Minister Bahk Jae-wan told a crisis management meeting Tuesday.
Officials blamed high atmospheric pressure over the Korean peninsula for the drought.