Korea's worst-ever drought enters crisis stage

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Korea's worst-ever drought enters crisis stage Hit by the worst-ever drought in almost 100 years, South Korea is in a virtual state of emergency. To overcome the natural disaster, which has gripped the entire nation since March, the government and ruling party produced yesterday a package of measures.

In a meeting presided over by Prime Minister Lee Han-dong, the officials agreed to inject 152.9 billion won ($119 million) in emergency funds to relieve damages from the natural disaster.

They also agreed to provide an additional 100 billion won in relief funds if there is no rainfall until June 20.

Shifting their top policy priority to overcoming the drought, the rival parties vowed to work out their own mid- and long-term measures to fundamentally help farmers secure new water sources. They also raised the need for supplementary budgets to help farmers recover from the damages incurred by the prolonged drought. Reflecting the seriousness of the ongoing dry spell, President Kim Dae-jung put off his press conference on national affairs reform scheduled for Wednesday.

The central regions of the nation have been hit hardest by the drought, with the amount of rainfall during the last three months standing at as low as 10 percent of the annual average.

Incheon and Busan registered their respective precipitation levels at 38.5 mm and 106.3 mm so far this year, the worst figures ever since 1904 when the country started collecting data on precipitation levels, according to the Korea Meteorological Administration (KMA).

The Seoul metropolitan area had a precipitation of 46.9 mm, the driest year since 1965 when the region recorded a rainfall of 38.8 mm, it said.

The water storage rate at most multi-purpose dams across the nation dropped to 34 percent of their capacity, with some plummeting as low as 11.9 percent, it said.

Irrigation reservoirs nationwide saw their average water storage level stand at 56 percent as of yesterday, 17 percentage points below from the previous average, it said. Some 176,200 people in 35 cities and counties are even suffering from restricted supply of water.

The government estimates that a total of 8,173 ha of farmland is suffering from a water shortage, with farmers in 4,476 ha of rice paddies unable to plant rice seedlings.

"With no rain forecast until after this month when the monsoon season sets in, farmers are now desperate to tap riverbeds and extract water from underground pools for their parched and cracked fields," said a government official.

Poverty-stricken North Korea is also suffering from the unprecedented long spell of drought, which, as North Korean media reported, has already done damage to over 50 percent of the fields that grow potato, vegetables and other non-rice crops on cooperative farms in Sariwon, North Hwanghae Province.

Since 1995, North Korea's farm industry has been devastated by flood, drought and mismanagement, forcing the impoverished, Communist country to rely on outside aid to feed its 22 million people.



-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), June 10, 2001

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