North Korea Food Supply Imperiled by Drought, UN Says

Most of the population for months has received below-recommended food rations, and it may get worse, the UN warns.

North Korea’s already-low food supplies are about to get worse after poor rainfall in the past year slashed the nation's critical rice crop, the United Nations said.

At least 70 percent of North Korea’s population, or about 18 million people, already rely on the government as their main source of food grain and for months has received well below the targeted daily ration, UN’s Food & Agriculture Organization said in a report Wednesday. The country will need to import almost 700,000 metric tons of grain to meet its needs this year, but government purchases are only expected to reach 300,000 tons, the report said.

Unusually dry weather through much of last spring and summer meant there was little water available for irrigation for rice, the country’s staple food crop, the agency said. The last harvest tumbled by 26 percent from a year earlier, and total food production in the country has fallen for the first time since 2010, as corn and potatoes also were affected by drought.

“Given the tight supplies, the food security situation in 2015-16 is expected to deteriorate from the past few years,” the UN FAO said. “Most households were already estimated with a poor or borderline food consumption.”

While better water availability in recent months may benefit wheat and barley, those crops won’t be ready for harvest until June, the UN said. Farmers are just starting to plant the 2016 rice crop, and that harvest usually starts in September.

Crops across several Asian countries, from palm oil in Malaysia to sugar in Thailand, were hit in the past year by El Nino, the global weather phenomenon caused by warming Pacific Ocean temperatures. Forecasters at Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said Tuesday that El Nino is expected to fade in the next few weeks, but there’s a 50 percent chance of conditions swinging to La Nina, the cooler-ocean counterpart that can also impact global weather and food supplies.

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