NAMPHO, North Korea — North Korean officials are concerned that unusually light precipitation so far this year might lead to bad harvests and possibly food and electricity shortages — but for farmers there is little to do but wait.
The country's state-run media have reported that the drought has dried up about 30 percent of its rice paddies, which is particularly worrisome because young rice plants need to be partially submerged during the early summer. A spokeswoman for the World Food Program confirmed the North has been experiencing water shortages since late last year because of the lack of rain and snowfall.
Though the North may have rain coming soon — and indeed heavy rains have fallen recently in the capital of Pyongyang and nearby areas — the WFP has cautioned that the main crop season later this year could be seriously affected if the drought continues. In North Korea, where the supply of a sufficiently balanced diet is a significant problem even in good years, that could mean a leaner-than-usual lean season ahead.
The U.N. estimates that about 70 percent of the North Korean population is food insecure — meaning their diet isn't well balanced and depends on a fragile agricultural and distribution system. Its electricity supply also relies heavily on hydropower stations, so low water levels have an impact on its power grid.
The crops for the main harvest in the fall, like these rice paddies near the city of Nampho on the western coast of North Korea south of Pyongyang, are mostly planted or transplanted in June and July, and account for about 90 percent of total food production.
The good news for North Korean farmers is that the rainy season is still on the way. June usually sees the beginning of the North's rainy season, and if the rains come that could mitigate the problem.