North Korea faces 'catastrophic effects' as heatwave leaves crops withering in fields, causing devastating food shortages

Impact of extreme heat and lack of rain exacerbates existing problems for already impoverished citizens 

Toyin Owoseje
Friday 10 August 2018 15:08
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North Korea’s children and elderly are at risk of starvation as the country grapples with a record heatwave, the Red Cross and Red Crescent have warned.

Extreme temperatures, which have gripped northeast Asia since early July, have led to rice, maize and other crops withering in the fields, “with potentially catastrophic effects”, the world’s largest disaster relief network said.

A similar drought last year in the country, known officially as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), caused a 7.2 per cent drop in food production during the harvest cycle.

“This is not yet classified as a drought, but rice, maize and other crops are already withering in the fields, with potentially catastrophic effects for the people of DPRK,” said Joseph Muyambo, programme manager for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Pyongyang.

“We cannot and must not let this situation become a full-blown food security crisis. We know that previous serious dry spells have disrupted the food supply to a point where it has caused serious health problems and malnutrition across the country.”

With temperatures soaring to 39C across the country and the next rain not expected until mid-August, malnutrition among the isolated nation’s vulnerable is expected to worsen.

“It’s children aged under five who will suffer the most,” Mr Muyambo added.

“High levels of malnutrition can cause impaired physical and cognitive growth, and this is completely unacceptable. The lives of elderly people and those already suffering from illnesses are also at risk during this heatwave.”

Food shortages for the 25 million population have been made worse by the fact that North Korea remains under a range of international and US sanctions over its nuclear and missile programmes.

In a meeting with Donald Trump back in June, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un agreed to work towards denuclearising the Korean peninsula but the foreign ministry has since hit out at Washington for an “outdated acting script”.

North Korea’s foreign ministry said that despite a number of goodwill gestures, including dismantling a nuclear testing site and returning the remains of some US soldiers killed in the 1950-53 Korean War, America had “responded to our expectation by inciting international sanctions and pressure”.

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