Red Cross warns of food crisis in North Korea as crops fail in heatwave

A commuter shields herself from the sun with a parasol as she rides a tram in Pyongyang on July 24, 2018. There has been no rainfall since early July as temperatures soared to an average 39 deg C across the country,
A commuter shields herself from the sun with a parasol as she rides a tram in Pyongyang on July 24, 2018. There has been no rainfall since early July as temperatures soared to an average 39 deg C across the country,PHOTO: AFP

GENEVA (Reuters) - A heatwave in North Korea has led to rice, maize and other crops withering in the fields,"with potentially catastrophic effects", the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said on Friday (Aug 10).

The world's largest disaster relief network warned of a risk of a "full-blown food security crisis" in the isolated country, saying that the worrying situation had been exacerbated by international sanctions imposed due to North Korea's nuclear and missile programmes.

There has been no rainfall since early July as temperatures soared to an average 39 deg C across the country, whose official name is the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), and the next rain is expected in mid-August, it said.

The population of 25 million is already stressed and vulnerable, with malnutrition among children that could worsen, it said in a statement issued in Geneva.

"This is not yet classified as a drought, but rice, maize and other crops are already withering in the fields, with potentially catastrophic effects for the people of DPRK," said Mr Joseph Muyamboit, its programme manager in Pyongyang.

"We cannot and must not let this situation become a full-blown food security crisis. We know that previous serious dry spells had disrupted the food supply to a point where it caused serious health problems and malnutrition across the country," he said.

The Federation was helping the national Red Cross to support 13,700 of the most vulnerable people at risk. It had deployed emergency response teams and 20 water pumps to irrigate fields in the hardest-hit areas, it said.

Mr David Beasley, the head of the United Nations' World Food Programme (WFP), visited North Korea in May to look into boosting food distributions to hungry women and children, in the latest sign of an opening.

About 70 per cent of North Koreans are "food insecure", meaning they struggle to avoid hunger, and one in four children under five is stunted from chronic malnutrition, the WFP said at the time. A 2015 drought worsened the situation, it said.

North Korea suffered famine in the mid-1990s that killed up to three million people.