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Heavy rain feared to deepen N. Korea food shortages

North Korea reported deaths and damage to farmland and homes from heavy rain, sparking concerns as the communist state is already struggling to overcome chronic food shortages that were deepened by floods last year.

Downpours hit several provinces from July 12-15, “leaving dwelling houses, public buildings and roads destroyed and causing casualties,” the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said over the weekend.

While heavy summer rains affect both North and South Korea, they have been a bigger threat to the Pyongyang regime due to its lack of drainage facilities and recent deforestation for firewood. 
Pyongyang citizens walk along a road submerged by the flooded Daedong River on Friday. (Yonhap News)
Pyongyang citizens walk along a road submerged by the flooded Daedong River on Friday. (Yonhap News)

With rains causing the worst damage in the North’s Hwanghae and Hamgyeong provinces, at least 15,000 hectares of farmland have been inundated, with 10,000 hectares of land becoming completely submerged, according to the KCNA.

The Pyongyang media did not elaborate further on the number of deaths, saying recovery efforts were under way. Floods in 2007 left some 600 people dead or missing and about 100,000 others homeless, according to earlier reports.

The seasonal rain front, which has been affecting the central part of the peninsula for more than a week, will begin to head north over the weekend, causing more damage in North Korea, the weather agency here said.

Some regions in the North will experience a maximum of 150 millimeters of rain per hour accompanied by thunder, according to the Korea Meteorological Administration. It asked the Seoul government to stay alert for a deluge of water into the North’s major rivers which would also affect the South.

Meanwhile, a U.S.-funded radio station reported that North Korea may face “the worst harvest in years” due to the summer rains and fertilizer shortages.

Hit by earlier-than-expected seasonal downpours, North Korean farmers are deeply concerned about their corn and bean crops, and the Pyongyang regime is making desperate efforts to produce fertilizer by mixing humus and human excrement, Radio Free Asia reported, quoting sources in Pyongyang.

The communist North, which does not reveal its news to outsiders unless there is a need, has been increasing calls for food assistance. The regime, which has relied on outside aid to feed its starving population of 24 million since the mid-1990s, has faced deeper isolation since it left multinational talks on its denuclearization and conducted a second nuclear test in 2009.

Following calls by the United Nations, the international community has been moving to send food to feed the most vulnerable in the North despite its ongoing nuclear ambitions.

In the most recent move, the European Union said it would send food aid worth 10 million euros ($14.5 million), with the first batch being distributed in four of North Korea’s most impoverished provinces in the northeast.

Regardless of the softening international mood, South Korea and the U.S. remain undecided over whether to resume full-scale food aid to the communist state. The two allies continue to suspect that the Kim regime may be stockpiling rice and question the accuracy of the assessment made based on Pyongyang’s own statistics.

By Shin Hae-in (hayney@heraldcorp.com)
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