North Korea’s Dark Secret: ‘100-Year Drought’ Is Knocking Out Its Power Supply

Via the Daily Beast, an interesting – yet sobering – report on hydroelectric-reliant North Korea’s watergy challenges:

Kim Jong Un’s next big crisis may be harder to Photoshop over, unless his propaganda artists have very strong battery backups.

North Korea is experiencing severe power outages as a crippling drought has led to increased failures by its hydroelectric-fueled power grid. The Hermit Kingdom admitted last Tuesday, through its state-run news agency KCNA, that it was suffering through “the worst drought in 100 years,” the effects of which have caused “great damage” to its agriculture as well as its already-beleaguered people.

An unusually dry 2014 followed by an arid spring this spring has crippled the North Korea power supply, some 60 percent of which is estimated to come from hydropower generation, according to The Washington Post. Low water levels have pushed the cash-strapped and secretive country to paralyzing electricity shortages.

“There is no doubt that there is a serious water shortage in this country, which obviously also affects electricity generation,” a resident of Pyongyang told thePost, under the condition of anonymity, for fear of retribution from the Kim regime.

North Korea has been here before. A 2014 report by the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights estimated that a severe drought-induced famine during the mid-1990s resulted in 600,000 to 2.5 million deaths. Further, the commission faulted “actions and omissions by the DPRK and its leadership have generated and aggravated” starvation and malnutrition in the country. This time around, climate change may be a factor, too, as governments from Pakistan and Syria to Brazil and even the United States battle historic dry spells that have destabilized markets and raised tempers among their populations.

“The drought conditions have worsened the already poor state of affairs,” Simone Pott, the spokeswoman for the German aid food agency Welthungerhilf, one of the few international aid organizations let into the secretive nation, toldGerman news agency Deutsche Welle. “And it has also overwhelmed the state’s food apparatus. I believe the North Korean leadership has realized that the situation has deteriorated to such a level that it will not be able to solve the problem without outside support.” (A State Department spokesman said he is “not aware of any such plans” to provide additional humanitarian assistance to North Korea.)

Ironically enough, Kim’s struggling agriculture and serial blackouts might be buffered by a young, underground economy that sprung up in response to that last major drought. According to Liberty in North Korea (LiNK), a U.S.- and Seoul-backed NGO, “the market became the primary source of food for ordinary North Koreans outside the ruling elite, and as food markets gradually grew to encompass a broader range of goods and services, the market mind-set and profit motive spread throughout North Korean society.”

Because of these new markets, or jangmadang, as they are known, Kim’s captive nation no longer fully relies on the government for assistance and food aid. “Today’s North Korean economy is essentially disguised capitalism—low-level trade hiding in the shadows or private businesses wearing masks of state-socialism,” Sokeel Park of LiNK told Reuters.

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About This Blog And Its Author
As the scarcity of water and energy continues to grow, the linkage between these two critical resources will become more defined and even more acute in the months ahead.  This blog is committed to analyzing and referencing articles, reports, and interviews that can help unlock the nascent, complex and expanding linkages between water and energy -- The Watergy Nexus -- and will endeavor to provide a central clearinghouse for insightful articles and comments for all to consider.

Educated at Yale University (Bachelor of Arts - History) and Harvard (Master in Public Policy - International Development), Monty Simus has held a lifelong interest in environmental and conservation issues, primarily as they relate to freshwater scarcity, renewable energy, and national park policy.  Working from a water-scarce base in Las Vegas with his wife and son, he is the founder of Water Politics, an organization dedicated to the identification and analysis of geopolitical water issues arising from the world’s growing and vast water deficits, and is also a co-founder of SmartMarkets, an eco-preneurial venture that applies web 2.0 technology and online social networking innovations to motivate energy & water conservation.  He previously worked for an independent power producer in Central Asia; co-authored an article appearing in the Summer 2010 issue of the Tulane Environmental Law Journal, titled: “The Water Ethic: The Inexorable Birth Of A Certain Alienable Right”; and authored an article appearing in the inaugural issue of Johns Hopkins University's Global Water Magazine in July 2010 titled: “H2Own: The Water Ethic and an Equitable Market for the Exchange of Individual Water Efficiency Credits.”