For official use only


6 September 1996


An on-the-spot review by FAO and WFP has just been completed to evaluate the effects of high intensity rainfall and floods, which occurred in the last week of July 1996, on crop production and food supply. The appraisal is based on discussions with Government agencies and damage assessment visits to the worst affected areas. These include Pyongsan and Kumchon counties in North Hwanghae Province, Pyongchon and Changdon counties in South Hwanghae Province and various areas in Kaesong Municipality. Although, heavy rainfall also reportedly caused some localised flooding around Supung and Sinuiju in North Pyongan in mid-August, the damage caused was not assessed by the FAO/WFP team.

In the five days between 24 and 28 July 1996, the southern parts of the country received an average of 800mm of intensive rainfall, resulting in serious flooding and extensive damage to agriculture, property and infrastructure. The rainfall and resultant damage occurred most extensively in North and South Hwanghae Provinces, Kangwon Province and Kaesong Municipality. In addition, though much less extreme, agricultural areas close to the capital Pyongyang also sustained some damage to crops. Records indicate that during the five day period, South Hwanghae received 910mm of rainfall, North Hwanghae 830mm and Kaesong Municipality 630mm, compared to 230mm, 310mm and 130mm respectively, which would be expected during the same period in average years. The rainfall was, therefore, between three and five times normal and up to 200mm higher than the combined average for July and August, during which the country usually receives some 60 to 65 percent of its annual precipitation.

In general, it is estimated that the south/southwest produces roughly 60 percent of the country’s food grain, with the remainder coming principally from the northwest and the provinces of North and South Pyongan. The areas affected by the rainfall and floods were, therefore, of considerable agricultural importance. It is estimated that 7 out of a total of 20 counties in South Hwanghae Province and 8 out of 17 in North Hwanghae were seriously affected.

The high intensity of rainfall resulted in a tremendous increase in the volume of water in rivers, reservoirs and irrigation systems, to levels much above normal safe carrying capacity. This resulted in various forms of damage, the most noticeable and significant of which was burst embankments, spillage and overflow from rivers and canals. The rapid increase in volume of irrigation reservoirs also meant that there was little option other than to leave sluices open, releasing vast quantities of water into feeder canals and onto fields. As an illustration, in one major irrigation area visited, it was estimated by local officials that whilst the carrying capacity of the canal system was 200 cubic metres/second, at the height of the rains some 700 cubic metres/second were being released.

As a result of heavy rains and the consequent overflow from rivers, canals and reservoirs, a large proportion of low-lying areas remained submerged for periods up to 5 days. The extent and duration of submergence, was by far the principal cause of crop loss, though to a lesser extent losses also occurred due to crops being washed away and to being covered by sand deposits, mostly in areas adjacent to rivers and canals. Submergence in itself need not have resulted in heavy losses had the crops been either more advanced or, alternatively, less advanced in the crop cycle. Both paddy, the main crop affected, and maize, however, were at a critical stage in development at which they were most susceptible to adverse conditions. In the case of paddy, which was at the critical stage between flowering and grain filling, periods over 24 hours under water effectively meant that grain formation stopped and any recovery is likely to be small. Evidence of this was clearly observed, where a large number of crops sampled had developed panicles but no grain.

In general, maize was less affected by submergence and other consequences of flooding, as a larger proportion of the crop is grown on higher ground. Nonetheless, in the areas affected, as the crop was also at the critical stage of ‘earing’ and grain formation, production will be severely curtailed. The possibility of any recovery will also be constrained by smut disease, evidence of which was observed to be widespread.

Some minor crops, such as soya beans, were also damaged or destroyed, though as most of these are grown on borders, around principal cereals, on embankments and in peripheral areas, the relative extent of the damage is not anticipated to be large.

In provisionally estimating crop losses, the area damaged and potential yields this year were taken into consideration. Although productivity in recent years has been constrained by declining soil fertility and shortages of agricultural inputs, observations confirm that efforts have been made to maintain yield levels. These include the use of high yielding varieties (Pyongyang 15 & 21 in rice), the use of intensive and organised crop management, which places heavy emphasis on individual plant care, synchronised application of chemical inputs, the use of organic inputs and intensive plant protection methods. Based on field observations, therefore, it is provisionally estimated that 360 000 tons of paddy will be lost this year and 92 000 tons of maize. Total loss in cereals, due to the floods, is tentatively projected at around 373 000 tons (including rice in milled equivent). However the full extent of losses and the consequent implications for food supply next year will depend significantly on possible crop recovery in affected areas and weather conditions between now and harvest in October. It will only be possible, therefore, to make a comprehensive assessment of overall crop production and the bearing this has on food supply, at the time of harvest.

Given the short duration and inflexibility of the crop cycle in Korea D.P.R, there is no possibility of replanting areas in which crops have been lost. What is possible and now being officially encouraged is vegetable planting, mainly cabbage and radish, on affected fields. Vegetables, will of course not compensate for the lack of cereals in the diet, in terms of calorific in-take, though they will, nonetheless, be useful in providing essentially needed nutrients and vitamins.

A number of interventions aimed at the rehabilitation of agriculture and increasing food production were also identified by the team, which will be developed further by FAO’s Special Relief Operations Service (TCOR).


It is inevitable that the recent floods will accentuate the seriousness of existing food supply problems in the country. Already supply difficulties in recent years, especially since the floods in 1995, have meant that rationing through the Public Distribution System (PDS), which caters for the food needs of the majority of the population, has been revised down significantly. As a result, rations are now considerably below historic levels and for a large proportion of the population well below minimum quantities required.

In addition, of an estimated 5 million people on collective farms, who were formerly not entitled to PDS cereal rations, more and more have had to be progressively absorbed into the system, in the aftermath of the reduced harvest in 1995: some, as far back as last November and others at various times this year, as household stocks became depleted. Consequently, by May 1996, the majority of collective farm workers had effectively become dependent on the PDS. Those that had not, were in areas not affected by the 1995 floods.

In response to mounting supply difficulties, the Government has gradually had to lower off-take from the PDS. At present levels, it is estimated that a significant part of the population are entitled to receive a cereal ration of approximately 6 kg/month or 200 grams/day. This is considerably lower than an acceptable minimum. Moreover, as the supply channel is now almost entirely dependent on imports, it is likely that even this reduced off-take has not been consistently maintained and rations are only provided, irregularly, when and as imports arrive. There have been reports that cereal allocations have, on occasions, been restricted to once instead of twice a month .

As food supply difficulties have become more manifest, various counter-measures have been implemented. In late May/early June at the time of harvest , potatoes were introduced into the PDS for the first time to supplement rations. As only a limited area is cultivated, officially estimated at some 35 000 hectares, supplies would have amounted to around 525 000 tons of potatoes or 131 000 tons in grain equivalent. Potatoes are not considered a staple and are normally utilized for industrial purposes. Nonetheless, it is estimated that they formed an important component of the diet for a period of six weeks from the beginning of June to the early part of July. In addition, at the beginning of August a part of the maize crop was harvested early and channeled into the PDS as cobs/green maize. This, being a stop-gap measure to ease current pressure, will obviously reduce availability at harvest

Grain use for livestock and other uses has been dramatically cut and it is currently estimated that only core breeding stock are being retained with large numbers of animals, either traded, released to households for tending or culled. Although the full extent of this reduction is not known, estimates range from 30 to 90 percent.

The Government has also authorized all provinces and counties to barter products directly with neighbouring countries, especially China, for food. Products that have been bartered, included fish/shellfish, scrap metal, marble and timber, the logging of which is believed to have accentuated problems of deforestation and erosion in some areas. Provinces and counties have also been allowed to utilize financial reserves held locally for food purchases, mostly wheat flour. It is estimated that imports through this system of trade, have amounted to approximately 250 000 tons of cereals since the beginning of 1996. Areas of the country that have been successful in importing food in this way, are excluded from central allocation for the duration imported quantities are expected to last.

Although the Government is seriously constrained in making commercial imports for cash, it has been successful in securing supplies through barter with some countries. The main commodities bartered include cement, steel and gold. It has also intensified attempts to secure food supplies through bilateral grant aid or on the basis of deferred payment. Since the beginning of the 1995/96 marketing year in November, it is estimated that pledges and deliveries of these imports, classified as programme food aid, amount to around 523 000 tons of grain.

By early September 1996, emergency food aid through the UN-system will have amounted to around 46 500 tons of cereals and 6 000 tons of blended food, mainly CSB. Additional donations from non-governmental organizations, notably CARITAS and IFRC, will amount to approximately 28 800 tons of grain and 1 600 tons of non-grain products. In total these sources, therefore, will have provided some 75 300 tons of cereals and 7 600 tons of non cereals in food assistance. However, so far pledges to the food component of the second UN consolidated interagency appeal, amounting to 70 550 tons of food equivalent or U.S.$ 25.9 million, only cover 60 percent of requirement. The balance is, therefore, still required.

In relation to total cereal import requirement of 1 471 thousand tons of cereals for 1995/96, identified in the last FAO/WFP Special Alert No 267 of May this year, the quantity of commercial and cereal bartered imports and food aid provided or pledged so far, amounts to 848 300 tons. This, therefore, leaves an overall deficit of some 622 700 tons, with which the Government still needs assistance in the form of programme food aid or concessional commercial imports, in order to enable it to maintain minimum ration levels.

This report is prepared on the responsibility of the FAO and WFP Secretariats with information from official and unofficial sources and is for official use only. Since conditions may change rapidly, please contact the undersigned for further information if required.
Abdur Rashid D. Morton
Chief, GIEWS, FAO Acting for Director, OP, WFP
Telex 610181 FAO I Telex: 626675 WFP I
Fax: 0039-6-5225-4495 Fax: 0039-6-5228-2837


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