North Korea is releasing emergency military rice reserves as its food shortage worsens, South Korea’s spy agency said Tuesday, with a heat wave and drought reducing the country’s supply, reported AP. The country’s moribund economy is continuously being battered by the protracted COVID-19 pandemic, and while mass starvation and social chaos have not been reported, observers expect further deterioration of North Korea’s food situation until the autumn harvest.
Seoul’s National Intelligence Service told a closed-door parliamentary committee meeting that North Korea is supplying rice reserved for wartime uses to citizens left with little food, other laborers and rural state agencies, according to Ha Tae-keung, one of the lawmakers who attended the session. Ha cited the NIS as saying an ongoing heat wave and drought have wiped out rice, corn and other crops and killed livestock in North Korea. The NIS said North Korea’s leadership views fighting the drought as “a matter of national existence” and is focusing on increasing public awareness of its campaign. The price of rice, the most important crop in North Korea, once doubled from early this year. The price briefly stabilized in July before soaring again. It isn’t the first time that North Korea has released state rice reserves, but the assessment that it doesn’t have much left in its grain stockpiles is worrisome.