North Korea is tugging at the heart, and purse, strings of the global community, saying it has been hit by its “worst drought in a century” and has suffered extensive damage to agriculture.
In a rare outreach to global media outlets, the official Korean Central News Agency said the drought has dried up 30 percent of its rice paddies, which need to be partially submerged in water during the early summer.
“Recently in our country, there has been a severe drought with sudden extremely high temperatures and nearly no rain,” Ri Yong Nam, a senior North Korean weather official, told the world media on Tuesday. “Now the drought is causing a water shortage and great damage to agriculture, and we foresee this drought will continue for a while.”
He said temperatures in May 9-12 degrees Fahrenheit higher than normal.
Both North and South Korea have had unusually dry weather this year.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry said precipitation in North Korea was abnormally low in May but that it couldn’t confirm North Korea’s claim that it was experiencing its worst drought in a century.
In a concerted press blitz to get coverage of the supposed problem, North Korea even authorized the head of a farm work team to talk to international media. North Korea typically never allows such access and barely talks to the global press through official channels at all.
“This is the first drought damage in my 20 years of farming experience,” said Sin Jong Choi, head of a work team at North Korean farm. He went on to detail how seedlings dried out, forcing farmers to re-plow the fields and plant corn instead.
But the corn plants were “completely burned to death,” said Bae Tae Il, another member of the farm authorized to speak to reporters. “We are launching all-out efforts to overcome the drought damage.”
The unusual press blitz is likely a positioning move, designed to draw attention away from North Korea’s nuclear arms and missile programs, as well as its the squandering of the country’s resources by the ruling elite class.
This behavior has caused international aid donations to North Korea to fall in recent years, with the UN allocating just $111 million for North Korean operations this year, the lowest such level since 2009.
Denying the country food aid puts pressure on its rulers to divert resources away from expensive weapons systems. It also has economic consequences, as the great famine of 1990 loosened the regime’s control over the economy by damaging its public food distribution system and paving the way for private economic activity in the form of unofficial markets.
North Korean experts actually believe that while famine could happen again this year, the chances are remote given the regime learned from the last famine and has improved farming and related infrastructure. The country does not trumpet these advances for fear of losing access to foreign aid, which help it fund weapons programs.