Impoverished North Korea is suffering its worst drought in decades and food supplies are reportedly running low, but South Korea’s push to provide aid is bogged down in the growing tension marked by missile tests and sanctions crackdowns. South Korea is seeking to send food directly to the North while scaling up donations to international agencies including the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP), two sources familiar with the matter told Reuters. If it comes off, it would mark the South’s first bilateral food aid since 2010, when it delivered 5,000 tons of rice, Unification Ministry data shows. The WFP says more than 10 million North Koreans are in urgent need after crop output plunged to a decade low last year. On Monday, the Red Cross said this year’s early drought is threatening the summer harvest, adding to the crisis. A devastating famine in the 1990s, exacerbated by drought, killed as many as a million North Koreans, with many resorting to eating tree bark and grass. The North’s official KCNA news agency on Wednesday said this year’s rainfall so far was the lowest since 1982, while the Rodong Sinmun newspaper called for staging “war against the nature”, mobilising all available water pumps and irrigation equipment. But tension again has mounted since a second summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump, aimed at bringing about the denuclearisation of the North, broke down in Hanoi in February. The North has fired two missiles and multiple projectiles in
North Korea fired several “unidentified short-range projectiles” into the sea off its east coast on Saturday, prompting South Korea to call on its communist neighbour to “stop acts that escalate military tension on the Korean Peninsula”. The South Korean military initially described it as a missile launch, but subsequently gave a more vague description. The latest firing came after the North’s test of what it called a tactical guided weapons system in April.
Analysts suspected the flurry of military activity by Pyongyang was an attempt to exert pressure on the United States to give ground in negotiations to end the North’s nuclear programme after a summit in February ended in failure. South Korea’s presidency urged North Korea to refrain from further action in one of the most stiffly-worded statements since the two Koreas embarked on reconciliation efforts early last year.
“We are very concerned about the North’s latest action,” South Korea’s presidential spokeswoman said in the statement, adding that it violates an inter-Korean military agreement.
“A North Korean soldier was detected crossing the military demarcation line” by South Korean troops using surveillance equipment, the military Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said in a statement. “Related agencies plan to investigate him regarding the details of how he came to the South,” it said.
“The South and North reached the agreement after sincerely discussing action plans to develop inter-Korean relations to a new, higher stage,” said a joint statement released by the South’s Unification Ministry.
They agreed to hold ceremonies in late November or early December to inaugurate work on reconnecting the railways and roads that have been cut since the 1950-53 Korean War.
“I aim to have lots of heart-to-heart talks with Chairman Kim Jong Un,” South Korean President Moon Jae-in said during a meeting with top advisers, according to his office. “What I want to achieve is peace. I mean irreversible, permanent peace that is not shaken by international politics.”
North and South Korea opened a joint liaison office in the Northern city of Kaesong on Friday as they knit closer ties ahead of President Moon Jae-in’s visit to Pyongyang next week.
“A new chapter in history is open here today,” South Korean unification minister Cho Myoung-gyon told a ceremony, calling the office “another symbol of peace jointly created by the South and the North”.