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North Korea Winter Threatens Food Supply

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The Associated Press
Monday, March 3, 2008; 6:06 AM

SEOUL, South Korea -- An abnormally dry and mild winter has hampered the growth of some crops in North Korea, state media reported Monday in a development that could exacerbate the impoverished country's chronic food shortages.

Temperatures rarely dropped below minus 5 degrees, Kim Mun Uk, an official at the North's Hydro-Meterological Service told the official Korean Central News Agency.

There was also scant snow or rain in the capital, Pyongyang, or in western and eastern coastal regions between mid-December and Feb. 21, the report said.

"This abnormal climate phenomenon has seriously affected the growth of autumn wheat and barley," KCNA reported.

Since the mid-1990s, about 2 million people are believed to have died in North Korea from famine caused by natural disasters and economic mismanagement.

Rice and corn are the main staple foods for North Korea's 23 million people. Barley and wheat account for about 6 percent of the total 4 million tons of grain the North produced last year, according to South Korea's Unification Ministry.

To help feed its people, North Korea received 700,000 tons of food aid in 2007 from the international community, including 410,000 tons from South Korea, the ministry said.

The World Food Program recently predicted the North will be short of about 1.4 million tons of food this year _ a deficit larger than previous years caused by flooding last summer that destroyed more than 11 percent of the country's crops.

The floods, triggered by the heaviest rainfall in 40 years, also left some 600 dead or missing, according to North Korea's state media.

© 2008 The Associated Press