North Korean sounded a new famine alert Monday when it disclosed that more than 1.4 million tones of grain had been lost because of severe drought and typhoons this year.
About 360,000 tones of rice and 660,000 tones of maize had been lost to drought, according to a top agriculture ministry official, quoted by the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
Two typhoons that hit another area over the past three weeks had destroyed 140,000 hectares (345,000 acres) of farm land with the loss of another 405,000 tones of grain, said the report, monitored in Seoul.
"Therefore, it is certain that the shortage of food will continue next year too," said the statement by the ministry's director of the agriculture department.
North Korea suffered a serious drought and other natural disasters between 1994 and 1998 that one US Congress report estimated caused up to two million deaths through hunger or associated disease.
Though it still cannot feed its population without international handouts, aid groups had reported earlier this year that food supplies were getting better. But reports over past weeks have indicated a new emergency is building.
The rare government statement on current conditions came a day after South Korea's President Kim Dae-Jung warned that the North's food crisis could get worse again next year.
Aid agencies have launched new international appeals for cash to help North Korea.
KCNA said at the weekend that the two typhoons, at the end of August and mid-September, and other torrential rainstorms had killed many people and destroyed 29,000 homes. The agency estimated the damage at more than six billion dollars as roads, bridges and railway lines were swept away.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies last week issued an urgent appeal for money to help 10,000 homeless North Koreans saying at least 40 people had died in the storms.
The World Food Program has said it needs 100 million dollars to buy about 195,000 tones of food for children, pregnant women and the elderly in North Korea during the harsh winter months.
The agriculture ministry statement said some reservoirs had only between three and 18 percent of expected water levels in the provinces of North and South Hwanghae, North and South Phyongan, Kanwon and South Hamgyong.
The ministry official was quoted as saying some areas had not had rain for between 40 and 50 days.
"Major granaries could hardly be watered," he said, adding: "As a result, rice transplanting across the country was delayed more than one month and rice was not transplanted in some areas."
The official said that as "serious drought and abnormal high temperature" had continued until mid-August "paddy fields dried up, rice roots rotted and maize withered to die."
The government said its estimates of one million tones of lost grain "was confirmed on the spot by international organizations" on a mission to assess aid needed for North Korea -- SEOUL(AFP)
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