BEIJING, June 22 Drought has returned to
threaten precarious food supplies in North Korea, the head of a
German aid agency said on Friday after a rare visit to the
countryside in the isolated state.
Wolfgang Jamann, the head of the German NGO Welthungerhilfe,
said he saw children using bottles and buckets to water crops by
hand in the absence of large-scale irrigation systems in two
"We were repeatedly confronted with the statement that we
are in a drought, the most severe drought in 60 years," he told
the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China, after getting back
from an almost week-long visit to North Korea.
"It's planting season now for the main crops - rice and
cabbage and maize - and you can see in the entire country the
planting has happened. But of course it is dry, and you don't
know what's going to happen, whether these plants will survive
the dry spell you have at the moment."
North Korea's KCNA news agency said on Friday there had been
hailstorms and heavy rain in some parts of the country in recent
days but that most areas were suffering "a long spell" of
Dry winters are not unusual. Two-thirds of annual rainfall
on the Korean peninsula comes in the summer.
Every spare piece of land was being used to grow crops or
vegetables, said Jamann, whose group is one of the few western
agencies permitted to work in North Korea.
He was unable to provide any estimates for how many people
may be affected and stressed these were his own observations
from the limited access he got.
"This maize is being watered manually, because there's no
rain and there's of course no large irrigation schemes. There's
many, many people out there trying to save those plants," he
added. "There's a huge effort being made now to provide water."
North Korea suffered famine in the 1990s that killed an
estimated million people and has continued to endure chronic
food shortages, which many experts say reflect systemtic
failings in the country's heavily centralised economic system,
which has sapped farmers' productivity.
While the United Nations estimates that North Korea's food
shortfall this year should be less serious than last year, even
in a good year the mountainous and sanctions-bound country
struggles to feed itself.
The United States said in April it would not go forward with
planned food aid to North Korea after its unsuccessful launch of
a long-range missile which Washington had warned would have
North Korea, ostracised by the West for developing nuclear
weapons in breach of UN Security Council resolutions, walked out
of six-party disarmament talks involving the two Koreas, the
United States, China, Japan and Russia in 2008. It expelled UN
nuclear inspectors in 2009.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie)