A DPRK soldier watches farmers working in a field in the DPRK, as seen from a boat on the Yalu river, opposite Hekou, in China's northeast Liaoning province, Feb 24, 2019. (GREG BAKER / AFP)
SEOUL — Rates of malnutrition and disease are increasing in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) as it faces a harvest that is half of what was expected, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said on Thursday.
Sporadic famines are common in the DPRK, according to experts based in the ROK, but in the 1990s, a nationwide famine killed as many as one million people
International aid agencies as well as the DPRK state media have been warning that erratic weather with drought and floods, and a lack of access to resources could lead to a food crisis in a country under strict international sanctions over leader Kim Jong-un's pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
"We are already seeing the impacts of this drought on vulnerable people," Mohamed Babiker, head of the IFRC's office in the DPRK, said in a statement.
"Rates of malnutrition and water borne diseases like diarrhoea and colitis are on the rise."
After an assessment in May concluded that this year's harvest would be less than half what it should be, the IFRC spent 250,000 Swiss francs (US$253,787) on deploying mobile waterpumps, which were able to double crop yields in the targeted areas, the organisation said.
"Water pumps and irrigation supplies can make a significant difference," Babiker said, calling for an additional 472,000 Swiss francs (US$479,284) for more agricultural and sanitation supplies.
The DPRK increased imports of fertilizer and food products last year, according to trade data compiled by the United Nations.
But the Center for Advanced Defense Studies (C4ADS), a Washington-based think tank, documented in a report this week how the DPRK also continues to import millions of dollars worth of luxury goods, including at least two armoured limousines valued at US$500,000 each.
The Republic of Korea’s (ROK) intelligence agency told lawmakers on Tuesday that drought had hit the DPRK's economy which already faces difficulties such as widening trade deficits, foreign currency shortages and a deepening cash crunch due to sanctions.
Rainfall in the DPRK has fallen by more than 30% this year from a year before, and there are signs of a deteriorating food situation, according to Lee Eun-jae, one of the lawmakers briefed by the spy agency.
"The DPRK is expected to exhaust its crop reserves earlier than usual this year," Lee told reporters.
The ROK has said it would donate US$4.5 million to the UN World Food Programme (WFP), and announced it was also providing 50,000 tonnes of rice for delivery to its northern neighbour.
The ROK also recently donated US$3.5 million to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) for humanitarian projects in the DPRK.
Last week, the DPRK state news agency KCNA said a campaign to mitigate the effects of drought was under way by digging canals and wells, installing pumps, and using people and vehicles to transport water.
The official television broadcaster on Monday warned of further damage in the upcoming rainy season. It said the country suffered from floods in June, showing submerged buildings and villages where houses were destroyed by landslides.
Sporadic famines are common in the DPRK, according to experts based in the ROK, but in the 1990s, a nationwide famine killed as many as one million people.
HONG KONG NEWS