By Kim Young-jin
North Korea’s state media said Saturday 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 the North’s media has reported on the toll this winter has taken.
Citing data from the North’s meteorological research unit, the KCNA reported that between Dec. 24 and Jan. 19, the average daytime high temperature had been minus 4.9 degrees Celsius while the morning low averaged minus 15.6 degrees. Both figures, it said, were 3.2 degrees lower than usual.
"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, said no unusual pattern of disease or health conditions had been observed by WHO staff.
“In such weather conditions, it is not unusual to witness an increase in respiratory ailments which is the case here too but this increase is not considered a significant change than in previous years,” she said in an email.
Gupta-Smith 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.
Korea Central Television, the state broadcaster, reported Friday that the North experienced colder conditions in 2001, but that this year’s they have lasted longer.
In August, the North gave unusually candid reports of devastating floods caused by torrential summer rains. It rarely gives detailed reports on environmental calamities.