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Experts: N. Korea Especially Vulnerable to Effects of Climate Change

FILE - A man walks on a dirt path between cornfields in Nampho, North Korea, in June 2015, when the country was enduring what state media called "the worst drought in 100 years."

Climate change could have a serious impact on North Korea by worsening the country’s chronic food shortages, experts and international agencies have warned.

According to the Hydro-Meteorological Service, North Korea’s state agency that provides weather forecasts, the country’s average annual temperature has gone up 1.9 degrees Celsius over the past decade. The temperature in the capital city, Pyongyang, has risen 1.6 degrees. Chunggang County, a northern county known as the coldest area in the country, has had a similar increase.

Kim Hyun-kyung, a meteorologist at South Korea’s state-run Korea Meteorological Administration, said North Korea is more vulnerable to climate change than neighboring South Korea because of its geographical location.

“North Korea is more likely to be affected by climate change because it is located closer to a continent and it is on a higher latitude compared to South Korea,” said Kim.

In a recent survey conducted by the Korea Environmental Institute, South Korea’s state-run institute that studies environmental policies, more than 70 percent of North Korean defectors reported they had experienced a significant climate event such as a heat wave, heavy rains or a cold spell while in North Korea.

In early August, major floods caused by seasonal rains hit the country, affecting 22,000 people and 4,000 hectares of agricultural land, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. In June, North Korea’s state media reported the country had suffered “the worst drought in 100 years.”

North Korea’s food production has often been hampered by droughts or flooding. Last month, the Food and Agriculture Organization projected the country will produce 3.7 million tons of rice and corn this year, a 14 percent decrease from last year, due to a severe drought. The U.N. agency warned the communist country’s food shortages could worsen next year.

Some experts in Seoul say a severe devastation of the country’s forest land and poor infrastructure also are weakening North Korea’s ability to cope with disasters caused by climate change.

“It is important to have capabilities to minimize damages caused by climate change. If a drainage facility or a reservoir are well set up, heavy rainfalls would not cause much damage,” said Myung Soo-jeong, a researcher at the Korea Environmental Institute.

North Korea appears to be trying to address the situation. In a rare move, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un acknowledged the country’s weather forecasting technology is outdated and called for improvement during his field guidance trip to the Hydro-Meteorological Service last year. Kim said there have been many “incorrect forecasts as the meteorological observation has not been put on a modern and scientific basis,” according to the official Korean Central News Agency.

Jee Abbey Lee contributed to this report, which was produced in collaboration with the VOA Korean service.