North Korea has for decades been grappling with chronic food shortages in the face of a dysfunctional state ration system and international sanctions imposed over its nuclear and missile programs.
Last year, Pyongyang called for an “all-out battle” against “an unprecedented heat wave” and its mission to the United Nations in New York last month warned of a food crisis.
A prolonged heat wave, along with typhoon and floods has taken a toll on food harvest, which posted a 9 percent drop from 2017 to the lowest level in more than a decade, the United Nations said.
Margareta Wahlstrom, president of Swedish Red Cross, told Reuters after her visit to the North late last year that maze yields fell more than 30 percent from average levels in some areas and rice prices would likely rise this year, aggravating food security.
That has resulted in a “significant food gap,” leaving some 3.8 million, or 6.6 percent of its 25 million population, in urgent need of humanitarian assistance worth $120 million, according to Tapan Mishra, the U.N. Resident Coordinator in the North.
The United Nations has been struggling to rally donors behind its North Korea programs, and said its 2018 “Needs and Priorities Plan” for the isolated nation was only funded at 24 percent.
Mishra cited international sanctions as a major challenge which has caused delays in aid deliveries and forced other relief groups to scale back their operations in the North.
“Without adequate funding this year, the only option left for some agencies will be to close projects that serve as a life-line for millions of people,” Mishra said in a statement.