North Korea said Wednesday it is suffering its worst drought since 1982, with an average of just 2.1 inches of rain having fallen in the country during the first five months of the year. In 1982, the level was 2 inches during that same period. The drought is expected to continue until the end of this month; a North Korean newspaper says officials and workers are trying to find new water sources as well as minimize the damage to agriculture. Earlier this month, UN food agencies reported a joint assessment showing that after one of the worst harvests in the country in a decade, about 10 million people there are facing "severe food shortages." And in February, North Korea's ambassador to the United Nations issued what the AP calls "an unusual appeal for urgent food assistance."
The Guardian reports that last year, food production in North Korea hit its lowest level in a decade. "We are particularly concerned about the impact that this early drought will have on children and adults who are already struggling to survive," says a Red Cross rep. "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." North Korea has blamed bad weather and international economic sanctions for the food shortage, and experts say climate change is playing a role. South Korea is considering providing food aid, but Japan's foreign minister said last week food aid should not be sent as long as the country's leaders prioritize nuclear weapons development over citizens' welfare. (Read more North Korea stories.)