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A dead fish at the bottom of a dried up reservoir in Siheung, a town southwest of Seoul. Photo from Reuters.

The Korean Peninsula is suffering from a historic drought.

On Sunday, media and governments in North and South Korea were claiming that the current drought was the worst that North Korea had faced in 60 years. By Tuesday, both North and South Korean meteorological officials were reporting that the drought was the worst the Peninsula had experienced in over 100 years.

That could have dire consequences for deeply impoverished North Korea, no stranger to famines and food shortages in the past.

Xinhua news in China quoted Japan's Tokyo Shimbun on Monday as saying that 20,000 people in the country have already perished since the drought began in April.

The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) said on Monday that 17 percent, or 196,882 hectares, of the country's total farmland had already been affected. The FAO noted that 3 million North Koreans were in need of urgent food aid.

The UN had already estimated that 24 million people in the country -- essentially the entire population -- faced food shortages; it has asked for nearly $200 million in donations.

According to varied reports from past U.S. Congressional visits to the country and independent estimates from nongovernmental organizations and researchers, North Korea recorded anywhere between 800,000 and 3.5 million deaths in the late 1990s due to famine. That massive variation in estimates is due to the information blackout in the country, making accurate assessments nearly impossible.

But if climatic conditions in South Korea are any indication, the North has already been, and will continue to face, significant new challenges over 2012.

By Tuesday, around 80 percent of South Korea was already being rated as suffering from the most extreme drought standards given by the government.

The South's Finance Minister, Bahk Jae-wan, said on Tuesday that The worst drought in 104 years is causing damage to our agricultural and livestock industries, resulting in price hikes in some farm products.

Reservoirs around the country have begun drying up, raising concerns that food prices will skyrocket after poor harvests.

But whatever the conditions are in South Korea, the North is likely to be facing worse, with fewer resources to confront the problem. Though short on fertilizer, mechanized farm equipment, reliable water pumps, and irrigation infrastructure, the country is abundant with poor government agricultural planning. Reports from inside the North by foreign news agencies reveal that Pyongyang is deploying human labor to confront the problem, often hoisting buckets of water to alleviate wilting crops by hand.

Workers

Workers in North Korea water wilting crops of maize. Photos from Cankao Xiaoxi (Reference News)

Wolfgang Jamann, chief of German NGO Welthungerhilfe, told a gathering of the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China in Beijing that of course it is dry, and you don't know what's going to happen, whether these plants will survive the dry spell you have at the moment.

This maize [corn] is being watered manually, because there's no rain and there's of course no large irrigation schemes. There's many, many people out there trying to save those plants, said Jamann.

The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the North's government mouthpiece, said on Saturday that 20,000 hectares have already been affected in North Hwanghae province in the southwest of the country. That would be like the U.S. government telling the public that large portions of the mid-west, the breadbasket of North America, was drying up.

Ri Sun-pom, an official in Hwangju County of North Hwanghae province said that It is hard to expect harvest in more than 2,000 hectares of corn-fields across the county though seeds were sowed thrice.