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Sunday, 10 June, 2001, 15:20 GMT 16:20 UK
Severe drought threatens Koreas
North Korean women collecting food rations
North Korea has been struggling to feed itself for years
By Caroline Gluck in Seoul

The Korean peninsula is reported to be facing its worst drought since records began nearly a century ago.

In South Korea, there have been calls for a nationwide campaign to deal with the problem, while in the Communist North the drought is raising fresh fears of a serious food crisis.

The central area of the peninsula is one of the hardest-hit.

N Korea food crisis
UN World Food Programme feeding about 8m people
Up to 2m dead since mid-1990s
Last autumn harvest 1.8m tonnes short of 4.8m tonne goal
Source: UN World Food Programme
In South Korea, fire departments have begun distributing emergency water rations, and some factories have closed down.

This is the rice-planting season, but many farmers living in the worst-hit areas have given up planting crops because of water shortages.

Emergency meeting

At an emergency meeting, government officials discussed plans to tackle the severe drought and are earmarking millions of dollars to build irrigation channels and drill for underground water.

Agriculture experts said up to 10% of crops would be damaged; vegetable prices have already risen sharply.

In North Korea, the situation is exacerbating existing food shortages.

Rainfall in the communist country's main rice growing belt was just 10% of normal levels.

The state run news agency KCNA said no harvest was expected in hundreds of thousands of hectares of farmland.

The country is expected to face its worst food shortages in three years, making it increasingly dependent on the outside world to help feed its starving people.

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See also:

16 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
N Korea food crisis deepens
09 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
N Koreans 'starving to death'
30 Nov 00 | Asia-Pacific
Where famine stalks the land
28 Oct 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
Life in Pyongyang
09 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
North Korea: A political history
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