The Korean Peninsula is suffering alongside Europe in soaring temperatures, with Seoul residents resorting to ‘ice vests’ to cool down, and the North declaring an “unprecedented natural disaster.”
Dozens of people, and millions of farm animals – including more than 2m chickens – have died in South Korea during weeks of scorching weather that have seen thermometer readings rise above 40C.
Authorities in the eastern port city of Gangneung have been placing ice blocks at public places including bus stops and train stations, while in the capital, Seoul, residents have flocked to air-conditioned shopping malls to escape the city’s hottest ever temperatures, which hit 39C last week.
The city’s fountains are pumping out cooling water, and handheld electric fans and ice vests – which are padded with ice cubes or a cooling gel – have become ‘must-have’ items. Many have resorted to jumping into over-crowded swimming pools to beat the heat.
The baking conditions have been attributed to a wall of high atmospheric pressure in the Northern Pacific and the heatwave is expected to last throughout August.
Citizens in the North, where temperatures are also in the high 30s, have fewer options to cool down given the power shortages that make air conditioning a rare luxury. Residents are instead using reservoirs and rivers and eating cold buckwheat noodles to cool off.
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Meanwhile, the government has urged people to “join the struggle” to prevent drought-like conditions from hampering food production in the already malnourished country, with state TV warning that the heat is “taking a toll on the economy.”
The North’s state-run Rodong newspaper said last week that curbing further damage to the agriculture sector was an "extremely important and urgent task".
"Rural areas across the country… are reporting damages to crops including rice and corn due to extremely high temperatures and drought," it said in an editorial translated by AFP.
How to cope in hot weather
"Today’s reality is calling for every single individual across the country to join the struggle to contain the damages stemming from high temperature and drought," it said, urging citizens to "display their patriotic zeal" and "save every single dollop of water".
The temperature was an unprecedented natural disaster, but not “insurmountable,” it added.
However, fears are rising about the longer-term impact of the sweltering summer on the North’s already fragile economy, which has been crippled by international sanctions.
The impact of the heat on crops will also be a test of agriculture reforms introduced to combat the famine conditions experienced in the mid-1990s.