SEOUL, South Korea -- First it was flooding that wreaked havoc on North Korea's food production. Now the famine-threatened country says severe drought is destroying hundreds of thousands of acres of crops. Lack of rain at the height of the growing season "has rendered the food shortage all the more serious," said the North's official Korean Central News Agency.
"Some 716,000 acres have been damaged in the country as of July 21," KCNA said. "The grain loss is expected to be 704,300 tons."
The reclusive communist state, preaching self-reliance as a guiding philosophy, is already dependent on outside food aid. U.N. agencies have said the country needed 800,000 tons of emergency food assistance before its October harvest to avert famine. Now, the North says it expects little from that harvest.
"Unprecedented abnormal weather is exerting a catastrophic influence upon all sectors of the national economy in Korea," KCNA said. "According to even initial surveys, the nation's granaries have been afflicted by drought....and no crops are expected from most of paddy and non-paddy fields."
A dry spell that lasted 50 days since the end of May has dried up thousands of small rivers and reservoirs, especially in traditional grain-producing provinces in the western half of the North, it said. That has left "cultivated areas dried and cracked and affecting the growth of crops," the report said.
With temperatures rising above 86 degrees Fahrenheit, more than 237,000 domestic animals were killed and 114,000 acres were burned in forest fires, it said. Dry field crops, such as early-ripening maize which is harvested in July and August, also were devastated, the report said.
Milton Amayun, an American humanitarian relief expert who spent a week in North Korea, said he saw roads leading out of Pyongyang packed with organized crowds who headed toward outlying farms carrying pails to water the crops.
Communist mismanagement had left the North with chronic food shortages. The situation was further exacerbated when the collapse of communism cut off Soviet aid in farm equipment, spare parts, fertilizers and fuel. Then severe flooding hit in 1995 and 1996, pushing North Korea to the brink of famine.
So far, the United States, China, South Korea, and other countries have donated several hundred thousand tons of wheat, rice, and other food. But the amount falls far short of the North's immediate needs, U.N. officials say.
The U.N. Children's Fund, or UNICEF, issued warnings that the North's children could fall victim to mass starvation without quick help. U.N. agencies estimated that one-third of the children under 6 were malnourished.
South Korea has agreed to send 50,000 tons of corn. That will be the South's second massive food shipment for its ideological foe in three months. Washington has given or promised $52 million in food aid.
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