N. Korea hit by worst drought in a century

Seoul (AFP) - North Korea has been hit by its worst drought in a century, state media said Tuesday, sparking fears of worsening food shortages in the impoverished communist country.

The North's main rice-growing provinces -- South Hwanghae, North Hwanghae, South Pyongan and South Hamgyong -- have been badly damaged by a severe drought, Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported.

"The worst drought in 100 years continues in the DPRK (North Korea), causing great damage," it said.

The agency said more than 30 percent of paddy fields across the country were "parching up", with almost no rainfall recorded in South and North Hwanghae provinces.

"Water level of reservoirs stands at the lowest, while rivers and streams getting dry," it said.

Last week the South's unification ministry said the North's crop production could fall by as much as 20 percent from last year if the shortage of rainfall lasts until early July.

North Korea has suffered regular chronic food shortages -- hundreds of thousands are believed to have died during a famine in the mid-to late-1990s -- with the situation exacerbated by floods, droughts and mismanagement.

UN figures show up to 70 percent of the country remains food insecure and 28 percent of children under the age of five are stunted.