South Korea says June rain has `eased` drought crisis in North

June rainfall has helped alleviate what North Korea has described as its worst drought for a century, although key rice-producing areas remain badly affected, the South Korean government said Friday.

Seoul: June rainfall has helped alleviate what North Korea has described as its worst drought for a century, although key rice-producing areas remain badly affected, the South Korean government said Friday.

"It seems that ... the situation has considerably eased," Unification Ministry spokesman Jeong Joon-Hee told reporters.

The ministry said that, following an extremely dry May, rainfall in June had reached 90 percent of the level recorded a year ago.

Nevertheless, Jeong said crucial rice-producing provinces such as Hwanghae and Hamgyeong were "still grappling with a prolonged drought" that would require close monitoring.

North Korean state media has called the drought the "worst in 100 years" and, according to the UN World Food Programme, early-harvest crops, mainly wheat and barley, have already been affected.

The UN Children`s Fund, UNICEF, warned on Thursday that urgent action was required to prevent the deaths of children already weakened by widespread malnutrition.

A 2012 study showed one-quarter of all North Korean children had symptoms of chronic malnutrition -- a condition usually caused by a combination of unsafe water and poor sanitation, inadequate food intake, and inadequate access to health services.

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.

International food aid, especially from South Korea and the United States, has been drastically cut amid tensions over the communist state`s nuclear and missile programmes.

UN figures show up to 70 percent of the country remains food insecure.

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