North Korea faces lowest crop harvest in 5 years, widespread food shortages: UN

North Korean people work on a rice field at the propaganda village of Gijungdong in North Korea in this April 11, 2018 picture. (Reuters)
Updated 21 September 2019

North Korea faces lowest crop harvest in 5 years, widespread food shortages: UN

  • South Korea has pledged to provide 50,000 tons of rice aid to its northern neighbor through the UN World Food Programme
  • Sporadic famines are common in North Korea, although a severe nationwide famine in the 1990s killed as many as a million people

SEOUL: North Korea’s crop production this year is expected to drop to its lowest level in five years, bringing serious shortages for 40 percent of the population, as a dry spell and poor irrigation hit an economy already reeling from sanctions over its weapons programs, the United Nations said on Thursday.
In its latest quarterly Crop Prospects and Food Situation report, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said the poor harvest of the country’s main crops, rice and maize, means 10.1 million people are in urgent need of assistance.
“Below-average rains and low irrigation availability between mid-April and mid-July, a critical period for crop development, mainly affected the main season rice and maize crops,” the FAO said. The report, which covers cereal supply and demand around the world and identifies countries that need external food aid, didn’t disclose detailed estimates of production by volume.
North Korea has long struggled with food shortages and a dysfunctional state rationing system, and state media has in recent months warned of drought and other “persisting abnormal phenomena.”
The crops shortfall comes as the country bids to contain the spread of African swine fever in its pig herd, following confirmation of a first case in May.
The disease, fatal to pigs though not harmful to humans, has spread into Asia — including South Korea — since first being detected in China last year, resulting in large-scale culls and reduced production of pork, a staple meat across the region including in North Korea.
The FAO report followed earlier UN assessments this year that the isolated country’s food production last year fell to its lowest level in more than a decade amid a prolonged heatwave, typhoon and floods.
South Korea has pledged to provide 50,000 tons of rice aid to its northern neighbor through the UN World Food Programme (WFP). But its delivery has been delayed by Pyongyang’s lukewarm response amid stalled inter-Korean dialogue and denuclearization talks with the United States, Seoul officials said.
In July, the North’s official KCNA news agency said a campaign to mitigate the effects of drought was under way by digging canals and wells, installing pumps, and using people and vehicles to transport water.
But North Korea has told the United Nations to cut the number of its staff it deploys in the country for aid programs. citing the “politicization of UN assistance by hostile forces.”
Sporadic famines are common in North Korea, but observers said a severe nationwide famine in the 1990s killed as many as a million people.


Protester flees Russia as two others tie the knot in jail

Updated 10 min 21 sec ago

Protester flees Russia as two others tie the knot in jail

  • The protester faces up to five years in prison for throwing a plastic bottle at police
  • Gubaidulin fled the country this week after realizing he could soon be given a lengthy jail term amid an unrelenting crackdown on the opposition

MOSCOW: A protester has fled Russia fearing imprisonment, his lawyer said Thursday, as a jailed demonstrator married a young woman accused of plotting to overthrow the government.
Aidar Gubaidulin, a 26-year-old programmer who faces up to five years in prison for throwing a plastic bottle at police, was among more than a dozen people who were arrested following anti-government protests demanding fair elections this summer.
Gubaidulin fled the country this week after realizing he could soon be given a lengthy jail term amid an unrelenting crackdown on the opposition, his lawyer Maxim Pashkov told AFP.
“This decision did not come easily to me but the events of the last few days left me no choice,” Gubaidulin said on Facebook.
“I’ve left the country and will not return anytime soon.”
Gubaidulin, who tossed an empty plastic bottle toward police at a July rally but did not hit anyone, was arrested and charged with mass unrest.
He was later released from pre-trial detention and eventually charged with threatening to use violence against police.
Pashkov said Gubaidulin decided to leave Russia after a court this week upheld the conviction of fellow protester Konstantin Kotov, who had been jailed for four years over peaceful protests.
“This affected him very much,” Pashkov said.
Meanwhile in a bittersweet development, Kotov, 34, married a 19-year-old suspected extremist, Anna Pavlikova, at Moscow’s infamous Matrosskaya Tishina jail, said Kotov’s friend and fellow activist Alexei Minyailo.
Along with several other people Pavlikova, then aged 17, was arrested last year and charged with creating an extremist organization and seeking to overthrow President Vladimir Putin’s government.
Her health deteriorated in jail and she was later placed under house arrest.
“Justice failed them, Kostya will soon be sent to a penal colony but love will triumph anyway,” Minyailo, who attended the wedding, told AFP, using a diminutive to refer to his friend.
Minyailo himself spent two months in pre-trial detention after the protests but was released after a solidarity campaign.
Overall six people including Kotov received jail terms of between two and five years over the opposition protests over elections in Moscow which were seen as unfair.
Under pressure from supporters the authorities made a few concessions, including releasing from prison actor Pavel Ustinov after he was jailed for three-and-a-half years and giving him a suspended sentence instead.
But as the wave of protests for the most part died down, the authorities once again began to tighten the screws.
This week, investigators announced five more detentions of protesters.
The latest arrests brought the number of people awaiting trial in jail to seven.
Tens of thousands of people rallied in Moscow this summer after authorities refused to allow allies of opposition leader Alexei Navalny to stand for city parliament in September elections.
Scores of Kremlin critics have fled Russia in recent years amid an increasing crackdown on dissent.