, SEOUL, Feb 10 – North Korea\’s severe food shortages are expected to worsen this year after a poor grain harvest in 2009, South Korean officials said Wednesday.
The unification ministry, which handles cross-border relations, said the communist state produced an estimated 4.11 million tons of grain last year, a five percent drop from 4.3 million tons in 2008.
Annual demand is 5.4 million tons, according to the state-run Korea Rural Economic Institute (KREI) in Seoul.
The estimated shortfall of 1.29 million tons is equivalent to almost four months\’ food supply this year, senior KREI analyst Kwon Tae-Jin told AFP.
Kwon, who helped analyse the grain production data, said the poor harvest was due to bad weather and a lack of fertiliser in the nation of 24 million people.
The South has since 2008 suspended annual shipments of fertiliser and food to the North amid rising tensions over Pyongyang\’s nuclear programme and other political issues.
The conservative Seoul government linked major aid to progress in the North\’s nuclear disarmament, a stance which angered the regime in Pyongyang.
The North has relied on outside aid to help feed its people since a famine in the 1990s killed hundreds of thousands. The UN\’s World Food Programme estimated last September that a third of women and young children are malnourished.
Despite the chronic hunger, the North in March last year refused further US food aid as relations worsened over Pyongyang\’s planned ballistic missile launch.
A shock currency revaluation last November 30 has reportedly played havoc with distribution networks, aggravating food shortages and sparking inflation.