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North Korea: Famine not inconceivable after early drought

An early seasonal drought in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) could exacerbate hunger, malnutrition and health problems for thousands of children, pregnant and breastfeeding women, older people and the chronically ill.

The drought, which started in early spring after months of unusually erratic weather, is harming crops that should be harvested in June and September. The drought follows a lean 2018 where food production was 12% below the previous year and the lowest in a decade. In all, an estimated 10.1 million people (40% of the population) are in need of urgent food assistance – a situation that this drought could only worsen.

Head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) country office in DPRK, Mohamed Babiker: “We are particularly concerned about the impact that this early drought will have on children and adults who are already struggling to survive. Even before this drought, one in five children under five years old was stunted because of poor nutrition. We are concerned that these children will not be able to cope with further stress on their bodies.”

The worst effects of the drought can only be seen in the coming months. However, the IFRC and the DPRK Red Cross are already expanding programmes to help at-risk and highly vulnerable communities to mitigate any food shortages.

The IFRC has released about 77,000 Swiss francs from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF) to bolster national Red Cross efforts to help 22,000 people. The DPRK Red Cross will use this money to deploy water pumps so drought-affected communities can irrigate their crops. This approach was first successfully trialled during a heatwave in 2018.

In addition, the Red Cross is running about 100 community greenhouses to grow vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers, chilis and mushrooms all year round. Volunteers are also looking to pilot household greenhouses to ensure families can eat green vegetables all year round.


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