NK's food shortages not so serious: Seoul
Food shortages in North Korea do not seem to be as serious as expected while the country grapples with a months-long drought, Seoul's foreign ministry said Tuesday, in a blunt assessment that contradicts warnings from United Nations agencies.
Poverty-stricken North Korea appears to face another bleak year with its farm industry hit by an unusually long drought, particularly in the western areas, the North's state media recently reported, raising concern it could exacerbate its food shortages.
Asked whether South Korea will consider resuming its state food aid to the North if the drought further worsens, Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Byung-jae replied, "Our general assessment is that (the North's food situation) is not so serious as to fall into a level of crisis."
"At present, no plan is in the offing with regard to government-level food assistance to North Korea," Cho said.
Last week, U.N. agencies operating inside North Korea reported that millions of North Korean people are suffering from chronic food shortages and dire health care, appealing for the world to raise funds to provide food to the impoverished state.
The North's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on Friday that the North's key breadbasket areas including North Hwanghae Province have been hit by an unprecedented drought.
KCNA added that "crops are withering" due to the most serious drought in 60 years.
The North's defiant launch of a long-range rocket in April blew up a Feb. 29 deal with the U.S. under which Pyongyang would freeze nuclear and missile tests in exchange for 240,000 tons of food aid.
New leader Kim Jong-un has stressed the importance of food production in the two personal statements he has made to the people this year. A bad harvest could deal a blow to his regime as he tries to consolidate his grip on power.
The North has relied on outside food aid to feed its population of 24 million since natural disasters and mismanagement devastated its economy in the mid-1990s.
South Korea halted its unconditional state aid to the North in 2008, by linking food aid to progress on Pyongyang's nuclear dismantlement. But Seoul has continued to selectively approve humanitarian and medical assistance to Pyongyang from religious and private aid groups. (Yonhap)