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First Floods, Now Drought Plagues N. Korea Third-Straight Bad Harvest Leads To Widespread Hunger

First, it was floods that caused a severe food shortage in North Korea the past two years. Now, it’s drought.

With one-third of North Korea’s farmland parched because almost no rain has fallen since May, drought is doing more damage to the Communist nation than the 1995-96 floods, a South Korean government agency said Thursday.

That means a third-straight bad harvest for North Korea and echoes news from the Red Cross, whose officials returned Sunday from a 10-day tour of the hunger-stricken country. They said drought was so severe that harvests in some parts of the nation could be one-eighth of normal.

Even without the drought, U.N. agencies say the country needs 800,000 tons of food aid to make it until the harvest in October. North Korean officials told relief agencies last month that 37 percent of the country’s children are malnourished.

The food shortages from agricultural mismanagement and floods that ravaged crops the past two years have already forced North Korea to set aside its tradition of defiant self-reliance and accept food from China, Japan, South Korea and the United States.

But North Korea had hoped for a bumper harvest to ease its food shortage. Now, however, almost no rain has fallen the past three months, causing reservoirs to dry up and corn and rice crops to wither.

The North needs 5.8 million tons of grain a year, but it will produce only 3.2 million tons this fall, creating a 2.6 million ton shortfall, according to Seoul’s Ministry of National Unification.

Last year, the country produced 3.7 million tons of grain with a 2 million ton shortage, according to South Korean and U.N. estimates.

The dry spell and heat waves that began this spring have affected 1.2 million acres, or one-third of North Korea’s total farmland.