Thursday, June 28, 2012

North Korea Facing Famine as Droughts Ravage Agriculture Activity

As North Korea's new leader Kim Jong-un consolidates his hold on power, one of the immediate challenges that he faces is finding ways to mitigate the country's worst drought in 60 years.

The leader who had just taken over the reins of power a few months ago is now faced with his country's worst drought in six decades.

Affecting nearly 20,000 hectares of farmland in its western coastal areas, the drought has led to severe food shortages.

Most reservoirs have also dried up, and the prolonged dry spell has left vast tracts of agricultural fields unattended.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization warned in a recent report that three million North Koreans -- out of a total population of 23 million -- are in urgent need of international food assistance.

A German NGO World Hunger Aid, which has undertaken various food and agricultural-related programs in North Korea since 1997, warned that famine would follow if the drought continues.

"You have this structural problem. The agriculture simply does not produce enough food for the people who are living in DPRK," Dr Wolfgang Jamann, Secretary General of World Hunger Aid, said.

"You have an estimated half a million metric tonnes of food that is lacking every year, and there are different ways and different efforts to increase productivity, but of course this is not taking the food it is supposed to be at the moment because we have natural calamities now, this makes the next harvest a little bit uncertain."

Dr Jamann noted that the tractors used in North Korea date back to the 1950s, and modern machinery is underused due to a lack of spare parts and suitable fuel.

But during his recent trip to the country, he has also noted the rise of what he called the nouveau riche.

"We see that people are communicating, they have mobile phones, they are getting cars, they move around, there is exchange even with outside countries. So I think there is a chance that things might change a little bit according to how China is developing," Dr Jarmann said.

"I think the potential that the people of Korea have, especially in their ability to work hard and maybe even the ability to be entrepreneurial, is being seen, and it is being accepted if not even if a little bit encouraged. But we all know that the political situation in North Korea might change for reasons that we can't say."

International relief agencies have warned that North Korea's food shortages will continue unless the country attracts investment and addresses its structural problems.

Like other relief organizations, the World Aid Hunger will help North Korea increase food production, and more importantly, food security -- a bit of a paradox for a country that believes in self-sufficiency and reliance on its own efforts.

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