Monday, January 24, 2011

Historic cold could hamper North Korea food production

North Korea’s state media said the harsh winter that has hit the peninsula has caused hardship for “the people’s lives” and could severely affect spring farming activities. 

"This is the first time since 1945 that the maximum daytime temperature has remained below zero for nearly a month," the KCNA quoted an official as saying. 

On Jan. 16, the mercury dropped to 18.2 degrees below zero in Pyongyang and other parts of the country, a mark some 5 to 10 degrees colder than in normal winters, it said. 

South Korean humanitarian aid groups project that the harsh conditions are severely compounding existing malnutrition and shelter problems. 

Vismita Gupta-Smith, an official of the World Health Organization which operates an office in Pyongyang, added that the WHO has been informed that the North’s public health ministry has “intensified its disease surveillance efforts to timely report any unusual incidence or occurrence of disease.” 

Any effect of the cold on the spring farming season would come at a particularly inopportune time: the United Nations recently estimated that some 5 million North Koreans will face food shortages this year as the impoverished country continues to struggle with a lack of staple grains.

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