North Korea warns of food crisis, almost halves rations before Trump-Kim summit

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North Korea has warned that it is facing a food shortfall and has been forced to almost halve rations, blaming high temperatures, drought, floods and sanctions.
A memo said North Korea's food production in 2018 was 4.951 million tonmes, 503,000 tonmes down on 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

UNITED NATIONS (REUTERS) - North Korea has warned that it is facing a food shortfall of some 1.4 million tonnes in 2019 and has been forced to almost halve rations, blaming high temperatures, drought, floods and United Nations sanctions in a memo seen by Reuters on Thursday (Feb 21).

The release of the undated two-page memo by the North Korean mission to the UN comes ahead of a second summit next week between United States President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.

Washington has been demanding that North Korea give up a nuclear weapons programme that threatens the US, while North Korea has been seeking a lifting of punishing sanctions, a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War and security guarantees.

The 15-member UN Security Council has unanimously boosted sanctions on North Korea since 2006 in a bid to choke off funding for Pyongyang's nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.

"The DPRK government calls on international organisations to urgently respond to addressing the food situation," read the North Korean memo, which the country's UN mission described as a follow-up to joint assessment with the World Food Programme between Nov 26 and Dec 7, 2018. The WFP declined to comment.

The official name for North Korea is the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).

The memo said North Korea's food production last year was 4.951 million tonnes, 503,000 tonnes down on 2017. The UN confirmed these figures as official government data provided at the end of January and said North Korea's food production included rice, wheat, potato and soy beans.

North Korea said it would import 200,000 tonnes of food and produce about 400,000 tonnes of early crops, but that it would still be left with a gap and from January would cut daily rations to 300g per person, from 550g.

UN officials and aid groups in North Korea are consulting with the government to "further understand the impact of the food security situation on the most vulnerable people in order to take early action to address their humanitarian needs", UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Thursday.

He said the UN and aid groups were able to help only one third of six million people estimated to be in need last year due to a lack of funding. A UN appeal for US$111 million (S$150 million) in 2018 was only a quarter funded, he said.

The UN estimates a total of 10.3 million people - almost half the population - are in need and some 41 per cent of North Koreans are undernourished, Mr Dujarric said.

Along with extreme weather, the North Korean memo also blames UN sanctions for restricting the delivery of farming materials and hindering fuel supply for the agricultural sector.

Humanitarian aid nearly ground to a halt last year as the US stepped up the enforcement of the UN sanctions, even though the Security Council North Korea sanctions committee has said sanctions "are not intended to have adverse humanitarian consequences for the civilian population".

"While Security Council sanctions clearly exempt humanitarian activities, there have been unintended consequences on humanitarian operations," Mr Dujarric said.

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