N. Korean drought likely to threaten food supply

No aid from S. Korea, U.S. after rocket launch

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NAMPHO, North KoreaNorth Korea is reporting a serious drought that could worsen already critical food shortages, but help is unlikely to come from the United States and South Korea following Pyongyang’s widely criticized rocket launch.

North Korea has had little rain since April 27, with the country’s western coastal areas particularly hard hit, according to a government weather agency in Pyongyang. The dry spell threatened to damage crops, officials said, as the country enters a critical planting season and as food supplies from the last harvest dwindle.

In at least one area of South Phyongan Province where journalists from the Associated Press were allowed to visit, the sun-baked fields appeared parched and cracked, and farmers complained of extreme drought conditions. Deeply tanned men, and women in sun bonnets, worked over cabbages and corn seedlings. Farmers cupped individual seedlings as they poured water from blue buckets onto the parched red soil.

“I’ve been working at the farm for more than 30 years, but I have never experienced this kind of severe drought,” said An Song-min, a farmer at the Tokhae Cooperative Farm in the Nampho area.

It was not clear whether the conditions around Nampho were representative of a wider region. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization said it had not yet visited the affected regions to confirm the extent and severity of the reported drought.

North Korea has suffered chronic food shortages for the past two decades because of economic and agricultural mismanagement as well as natural disasters. A famine in the 1990s killed hundreds of thousands of people.

The country’s past appeals for food aid have been met with some skepticism, however, amid concerns that aid would be diverted to the military and Pyongyang elite without reaching the hungry.

The U.S. government suspended food handouts to North Korea in 2009 after Pyongyang expelled foreign food distribution monitors.

In February, the U.S. reversed course and agreed to provide 240,000 metric tons of food aid in exchange for a freeze in nuclear and missile activities.

However, the deal collapsed after North Korea launched a long-range rocket last month in what it called a failed attempt to send a satellite into space to study the weather.

The launch was widely criticized by the United States and others as a thinly disguised attempt to test missile technology in violation of both the U.S. food deal and U.N. bans on North Korean ballistic tests. The launch drew U.N. Security Council condemnation.

South Korea’s conservative government has cut off large-scale direct food aid to North Korea since taking office in 2008, saying Pyongyang should first take steps toward nuclear disarmament.

North Korea’s dry spell is expected to last until the end of the month, the country’s State Hydrometeorological Administration said.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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