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Democratic People's Republic of Korea: Heat Wave - Information Bulletin

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This bulletin is being issued for information only and reflects the current situation and details available at this time. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Red Cross Society (DPRK RCS), with the support of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), has determined that available information points toward significant humanitarian needs that may require support from the IFRC Disaster Relief Emergency Fund.

The Situation

On 2 August 2018, the DPRK RCS officially informed the IFRC Country Office in the DPRK of a developing emergency in both South Pyongan and South Hamgyong Provinces due to a recent heat wave which is severely affecting agricultural production. The heat wave has brought temperatures of over 39℃ across the country as of 3 August. The heat wave started as of 11 July 2018 and is expected to last at least 23 days. This climatic event is seriously affecting agricultural production of the country. There have been reported casualties among elderly people and children due to heat stroke and these reports are being followed up by the local branches whose catchment area covers a total population of 13,768. It is anticipated that this weather pattern will continue until mid-August and will significantly reduce the yield, especially that of maize that is showing signs of withering and affect the livelihood of the people in the affected communities. According to state media, Rodong Sinmun (Korean Workers' Party newspaper) the Pyongyang government has declared a state of emergency on 2 August 2018 because of the unusually hot weather.

Chronic food insecurity, early childhood malnutrition and nutrition insecurity are widespread in DPRK. According to the 2017 Global Hunger Index (GHI), which measures and tracks hunger worldwide, DPRK has a score of 28.2, which is classified as ‘serious’. Around 10.3 million people, or 41 per cent of the total population, are undernourished. There are many complex, intertwined reasons for the high rates of undernutrition in DPRK. This includes mountainous terrain, with only 17 per cent of land good for cultivation. Farming is largely reliant on traditional farming methods, and a lack of agricultural inputs, such as quality seeds, proper fertilizer and equipment. In addition, changing weather patterns have left DPRK vulnerable to droughts and floods, which often result in reductions in agricultural production.

The IASC Index for Risk Management (INFORM) ranks DPRK 41 out of 191 countries in terms of disaster risk. Floods and drought, sometimes both in the same year, regularly strike the country. An estimated 6.2 million people have been affected by natural disasters between 2004 and 2016. Furthermore, climate change has produced, and is expected to produce further visible impacts, with the degradation of natural resources affecting agricultural production.

In 2014, a dry spell over 18 months caused drought, affecting agricultural production and access to water, left 18 million public distribution system (PDS)-dependents at risk of food insecurity, malnutrition and illness. In June 2017 the Government declared a national emergency following a dry spell that affected key food producing provinces in the south west of the country. The dry spell compounded the undernutrition situation, putting at risk the lives of 782,000 children under five and 313,629 pregnant and lactating women. The 2017 dry spell stressed the early season crops and constrained planting and early growth of main season crops. The Government mobilized communities and resources to provide irrigation, to reduce any impact from the dry spell. Humanitarian partners also provided support to the response, including through activities to prevent and treat malnutrition, as well as lifesaving health and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) interventions. Despite these efforts, total food production (in cereal equivalent) in 2017 was 5.45 MT, a 7.42 per cent decrease from the previous year’s 5.89 MT.

Dietary quality for many people in DPRK is poor, with limited consumption of food that is rich in protein, fat and micronutrients. This results in problems related to undernourishment including physical and cognitive development concerns. The immediate causes of undernutrition (both stunting and wasting) among under-five children is directly linked to food insecurity, sub-optimum feeding practices and lack of quality health services. Chronic food insecurity, as well as poor water and sanitation are main contributors to chronic undernutrition in the country.

According to DPRK 2017 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) results, 20 per cent of children under the age of five in the DPRK are stunted and face an impaired physical and cognitive growth whilst three per cent of children under the age of five are affected by wasting and face an increased risk of death. Marked disparities exist between rural and urban areas, wealth groups and provinces both in stunting and wasting prevalence. In the MICS, the distribution of stunting by age of children is noteworthy. Evidence shows that in the DPRK, the percentage of stunted children increases with age after one year – and the highest is in the 48–59 months age group at 26 per cent.

Any threat to food security will have a serious effect on an already stressed population in terms of food availability and the risk of increased malnutrition which will affect the most vulnerable sectors of the affected population – children, pregnant and lactating women, the elderly and those with underlying illness. People’s lifestyles have already been altered due to the heat wave. Currently, working times for farmers have been changed to early morning and late afternoon hours to avoid getting heatstroke. This also apply to farmers’ markets which are now opening at 18:00 from their usual time of 14:00.

The current priorities of DPRK RCS are centred on the need to enable pumps in the most affected communities to pump water to the lands most affected by the drought by providing the community with fuel to activate their existing pumps. In addition, the DPRK RCS will mobilize their own mobile water pumps, bringing them to work in the affected areas providing much needed water from dams and channels to the fields where it is most required.