The North Korean flag. Picture: CHRIS JUNG/NURPHOTO VIA GETTY IMAGES
The North Korean flag. Picture: CHRIS JUNG/NURPHOTO VIA GETTY IMAGES

Seoul — North Korea on Thursday called for an "all-out battle" against record temperatures that threaten crops in a country already grappling with tough international sanctions over its nuclear weapons programme.

The resulting drought has brought an "unprecedented natural disaster", the isolated nation said, warning against crop damage that could savage its farm-reliant economy, battered by sanctions despite recent diplomatic overtures.

"This high-temperature phenomenon is the largest, unprecedented natural disaster, but not an obstacle we cannot overcome," the North’s Rodong Sinmun said, urging that "all capabilities" be mobilised to fight the extended dry spell.

Temperatures have topped a record 40°C in some regions since late July, and crops such as rice and maize have begun to show signs of damage, the spokesperson of the governing Workers’ Party said.

"Whether the current good crop conditions, for which the whole nation has made unsparing investment and sweated until now, will lead to a bumper year in the autumn hinges on how we overcome the heat and drought," it said.

Similar past warnings in state media have served to drum up foreign assistance and boost domestic unity.

"I think the message was a precautionary one to minimise any impact on daily life," said Dong Yong-seung, who runs Good Farmers, a group based in Seoul, capital of neighbouring South Korea, that explores farm projects with the North.

But the mention of unprecedented weather, and a series of related articles, suggest the heatwave could further strain its capacity to respond to natural disasters, said Kim Young-hee, a defector from North Korea and an expert on its economy at Korea Finance in Seoul.

The warning comes after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un announced in April a shift in focus from nuclear programmes to the economy, and held an unprecedented June summit with US President Donald Trump in Singapore.

Since then, the leader has toured industrial facilities and special economic zones near the North’s border with China, a move experts saw as a bid to spur economic development.

Drought and floods have long been a seasonal threat in North Korea, which lacks irrigation systems and other infrastructure to ward off natural disasters. In 2017, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation warned of the North’s worst drought in 16 years.

Reuters

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