Analysis: COVID crisis could deepen food shortages in North Korea amid drought warnings

SEOUL, May 12 (Reuters) – North Korea’s coronavirus outbreak threatens to deepen its already dire food situation this year as a nationwide lockdown would hamper anti-drought efforts and labor mobilization, analysts said.

The isolated north on Thursday confirmed its first outbreak of COVID-19 since the pandemic emerged more than two years ago, declaring the “most serious national emergency” and imposing a nationwide lockdown. read more

The outbreak came as the country steps up an “all-out fight” against drought, with leader Kim Jong Un warning of a tense food situation due to the pandemic and last year’s typhoons.

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State media said last week that factory workers and even office workers and government officials had been sent to help improve agricultural facilities and secure water resources across the country. read more

Droughts and floods have long posed seasonal threats to North Korea, and any major natural hazards could further cripple its reclusive economy.

The pandemic had already cut international food trade and donations, and in a country that relies heavily on human labor in agriculture and lacks industrial and medical infrastructure, a looming COVID-19 crisis could further exacerbate the food shortages, analysts said.

“In North Korea, economic activity requires a lot of movement of people, and you can’t expect trade or great help from China,” said Lim Eul-chul, professor of North Korea studies at Kyungnam University in South Korea. South.

“But now agricultural activity could be reduced and the distribution of fertilizers, raw materials and equipment would be difficult,” he added.

UN aid agencies and most other relief groups have pulled out of the country amid prolonged border closures and say it’s hard to gauge exactly how bad the situation is there.

But Ji Seong-ho, a South Korean lawmaker who defected from the North in 2006 and has campaigned for North Koreans’ human rights, said the virus could spread rapidly due in part to the lack of a functioning medical system.

“The COVID outbreak could hit the current agricultural season hard, and food security could become really serious this year and next,” he told a parliamentary session.

International sanctions on the North’s weapons programs restrict wide swaths of its trade, and the country sealed its border in early 2020 to prevent the virus.

The reopening of border trade earlier this year provided a glimmer of hope, only to be halted in April due to COVID outbreaks in China, which recently imposed extremely strict restrictions in major cities like Shanghai. Satellite images show goods being quarantined for weeks or months at land and sea port facilities. read more

Cheong Seong-chang, director of the North Korea studies center at the Sejong Institute in South Korea, said the North could impose limited measures, unlike China’s radical movements, to ensure some activity continues, referring to the Kim’s order to maintain lockdowns in city and county. levels

“But over time, the lack of inter-regional movement would hurt supply and production, and North Korea could eventually face a serious food crisis and the kind of major turmoil seen in China recently,” Cheong said.

North Korea’s meteorological agency warned of prolonged drought this month, and state media reported again Thursday of an “all-out fight against drought” across the country.

In March, the United Nations urged Pyongyang to reopen its borders to help workers and food imports, saying its deepening isolation may have left many facing hunger.

The World Food Program estimated that even before the pandemic emerged, 11 million people, or more than 40% of the population in the North, were undernourished and in need of assistance.

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Reporting from Hyonhee Shin and Soo-hyang Choi; Edited by Hugh Lawson

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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