North Korea says hit by worst drought in 100 years

SEOUL (REUTERS) - Reclusive North Korea said on Tuesday it has been hit by the worst drought in a century, compounding chronic food shortages in a country where the United Nations says almost one third of children under five are stunted due to malnourishment.

The North's KCNA news agency said paddies around the country including the main rice farming regions of Hwanghae and Phyongan provinces were drying up due to lack of rainfall.

Paddies require enough water to keep rice plants partially submerged to grow.

"The worst drought in 100 years continues in the DPRK, causing great damage to its agricultural field," KCNA said, using the short form for the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

The United Nations resident coordinator for North Korea, Mr Ghulam Isaczai, last month warned of a looming crisis due to last year's drought caused by the lowest rainfall in 30 years.

Mr Isaczai said he thought the food situation would not be as bad as in previous major droughts, since communities were now more resilient and might have some reserves.

North Korea's farm production periodically suffers from droughts and floods in the summer, although the state has learned to cut damage by updating farming methods and switching to crops other than rice in recent years.

North Korea suffered a deadly famine in the 1990s and has relied on international food aid, but support has fallen sharply in recent years because of its restrictions on humanitarian workers and reluctance to allow monitoring of food distribution.

The UN in April called for US$111 million to fund crucial humanitarian needs this year in North Korea, which it said remains drastically under-funded.

Funding for UN agencies in North Korea fell from US$300 million in 2004 to less than US$50 million in 2014 and the country urgently needs money for food and agriculture, health and nutrition, and water and sanitation programmes, the world body said.