SEOUL (BLOOMBERG) - North Korea's ruling Workers' Party will discuss a "crucial" matter at a meeting on Wednesday (Aug 19) that comes as the state is battling catastrophic flooding and trying to head off a coronavirus crisis.
Top party leaders will meet to "to discuss and decide on an issue of crucial significance in developing the Korean revolution and increasing the fighting efficiency of the Party," the state's Korean Central News Agency said in a Tuesday report, without providing further details.
Leader Kim Jong Un last week sacked the premier he appointed a little more than a year ago, removed the southern border city of Kaesong from a virus lockdown and said his state would not accept foreign food aid because of the coronavirus risk.
The announcement on state media comes on the same day that the United States and South Korea began a set of joint military drills. Even though the exercises have been scaled down due to the coronavirus, North Korea has previously denounced joint drills as a prelude to nuclear war.
North Korea has been hit by flooding since earlier this month, as torrential rains threaten to wipe out farmland and the economy heads for what might be its biggest contraction in more than two decades. The flooding has also impacted its Yongbyon nuclear facility, with waters reaching pump houses for mothballed reactors, the 38 North website said based on an analysis of satellite imagery.
North Korea has boasted that it doesn't have any confirmed cases of Covid-19, a claim doubted by officials in the US and Japan. The pandemic brings large risks to the impoverished state because its antiquated medical systems could be overwhelmed if the virus arrived with force.
Agricultural production is a key element of North Korea's economy and flooding in its summer months has led to diminished harvest, putting strain on Kim as he battles global sanctions put in place to punish the state for its nuclear and ballistic missile testing.
The United Nations World Food Programme, which has operations in North Korea, has said about 40 per cent of the population is undernourished, adding "food insecurity and malnutrition are widespread".
The premier serves in a role as a steward of economic policy, and Mr Kim's decision to oust Mr Kim Jae Ryong from the post could help deflect blame for any hardships coming from a poor harvest.
In addition to damage to farmland, Mr Kim Jong Un's decision to shut borders in January due to the coronavirus slammed the brakes on the little legal trade the state has, and could send the economy this year into its biggest contraction since 1997, according to Fitch Solutions.