Three destructive typhoons, U.S.-backed sanctions and the global pandemic are fueling concern that North Korea’s 26 million people could slip back into the devastating food shortages the country faced during the rule of Kim Jong Un’s father in the 1990s. Kim said the country is under “an intensive struggle” to recover from the floods and typhoons, according to the official Korean Central News Agency. Kim has been shown repeatedly exhorting officials to minimize the damage to crops and boost yields.
A trio of major storms hit the country in just two weeks in August and September, just before the main annual harvests, disrupting food supplies in a nation where the United Nations World Food Program estimates some 40% of the population is already undernourished. The devestation follows a poor harvest last year and disruption to food imports from China and elsewhere due to the coronavirus.
Border closures due to Covid that reduced imports of agricultural inputs such as fuel and fertilizer during planting earlier this year could lead to this year’s harvest being the smallest since 1994, the report said.
While extreme weather events have disrupted farming around the world, North Korea is especially vulnerable. A mountainous country, only 22% of its land is suitable for crops, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. The nation’s isolation from global trade have also left it perennially dependent on food aid, mostly from China. Floods and droughts in the 1990s led to a famine that killed as much as 10% of the population.
“North Korea’s dependence on rain-fed agriculture, limited high-quality arable land, low mechanization of the farming sector and challenges with importing agricultural inputs such as fertilizers, combine to make the country vulnerable to climatic shocks,” Kun Li, UN World Food Program spokeswoman for Asia and the Pacific, said in an interview.