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North Korea Drought 'Worst in a Century'

FILE - Rice plants grow from the cracked and dry earth in Ryongchon-ri, North Korea, in the country's Hwangju County, June 22, 2012.

North Korea is suffering through its most severe drought in a century, according to a state media outlet, worsening an already serious food shortage in the impoverished country.

"The worst drought in 100 years continues in the DPRK, causing great damage," said the Korean Central News Agency on Tuesday, using an abbreviation for the country's official name.

KCNA said paddies have dried up in several key rice-growing provinces, including Hwanghae and Pyongan, because of almost a total lack of rainfall.

North Korea experienced a devastating famine in the early 1990s, leaving hundreds of thousands dead. It has since has suffered regular chronic food shortages, with the situation exacerbated by floods, droughts and mismanagement.

The United Nations says 70 percent of the population, or 18 million North Koreans, are food insecure and lack nutritional diversity. Malnutrition rates are high, with 27.9 percent of children under five suffering from chronic malnutrition.

The U.N. in April launched an appeal for $111 million to help fund five aid agencies working on the ground to continue providing North Koreans with food, clean water and other basics in 2015.

South Korea, which has experienced its own shortage of rainfall, has not commented on the KCNA report. But it recently warned that the North's crop production could fall by as much as 20 percent from last year if the drought continued.