Kim Kwang Hyon / AP

North Korea says it is experiencing the worst drought in a century

State news agency says about 30 percent of its rice paddies have dried up, sparking concern over food shortages

North Korea has been hit with what it described as the worst drought in a century, resulting in extensive damage to agriculture and sparking fears that the country's chronic food shortage could worsen as a result.

The official Korean Central News Agency said weather conditions had caused about 30 percent of its rice paddies to dry up. Rice plants normally need to be partially submerged in water during the early summer.

"Water level of reservoirs stands at the lowest, while rivers and streams [are] getting dry," it said in a report Tuesday.

An official from South Korea's Unification Ministry, who asked not to be identified because of office rules, told the Associated Press that precipitation in North Korea was abnormally low in May. Its production of rice and potatoes could decline by as much as 20 percent compared to average years if the shortage of rainfall extends to early July, he said. The official couldn't confirm North Korea's claim that it was experiencing its worst drought in a century.

KCNA said other crops were being planted in paddy fields in an attempt to reduce the agricultural shortfall.

North Korea suffered a devastating famine in the 1990s and has relied on international food aid, but support has fallen sharply in recent years, because of its curbs on humanitarian workers and reluctance to allow monitoring of food distribution.

The United Nations estimates that nearly a third of children under five ar stunted due to poor nutrician.

The U.N. resident coordinator for North Korea, Ghulam Isaczai, warned in a Reuters interview last month of a looming crisis due to last year's drought, caused by the lowest rainfall in 30 years.

At the time, Isaczai said he thought the food situation would not be as bad as in previous major droughts, since communities were now more resilient and might have reserves.

In April, the United Nations called for $111 million to fund crucial humanitarian needs this year in North Korea, which it said remains drastically under-funded.

Funding for U.N. agencies in North Korea fell to less than $50 million in 2014, from $300 million in 2004.

North Korea relies heavily on hydroelectric power and suffers from chronic electricity shortages, which can be exacerbated by periods of no rain.

South Korea has also received sharply lower rainfall, particularly in the northern regions, which have got about half the rain of an average year, the national weather agency says.

In early June, Pyongyang's propaganda officials produced two new posters and slogans to spur the fight on drought.

"Let's mobilize the masses and fight with all our strength against the drought," read one poster that showed a smiling farmer gesturing towards a field of workers with red flags and spades.

Wire services

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