Both Koreas suffering worst drought in a century

North Korea has dispatched soldiers to pour buckets of water on parched fields and South Korean officials have scrambled to save a rare mollusk threatened by the heat, as the worst dry spell in a century grips the Korean Peninsula.

Parts of North Korea are experiencing the most severe drought since record keeping began nearly 105 years ago, meteorological officials in Pyongyang said.

The protracted drought is heightening worries about North Korea's ability to feed its people. Two-thirds of North Korea's 24 million people faced chronic food shortages, the United Nations said earlier this month while asking donors for $198 million in humanitarian aid for the country.

Even in South Phyongan and North Hwanghae provinces, which are traditionally North Korea's "breadbasket," thousands of hectares (acres) of crops are withering away despite good irrigation systems, local officials said in recent days.

Reservoirs are drying up, creating irrigation problems for farmers, said Ri Sun Pom, chairman of the Rural Economy Committee of Hwangju County.

A group of female soldiers with yellow towels tied around their heads fanned out across a farm in Kohyon-ri, Hwangju County, North Hwanghae Province, with buckets to help water the fields. An ox pulled a cart loaded with a barrel of water while fire engines and oil tankers helped transport water.

Kohyon-ri and Rongchon-ri were among several areas that journalists from The Associated Press visited in recent days.

Pak Tok Gwan, management board chairman of the Ryongchon Cooperative Farm, said the farm could lose half its corn without imminent rain.

South Korean officials also reported the worst drought in more than a century in some areas after nearly two months without significant rainfall, raising worries about damage to crops and a dangerous drop in water levels at the nation's reservoirs.

"The worst drought in 104 years is causing damage to our agricultural and livestock industries, resulting in price hikes in some farm products," Finance Minister Bahk Jae-wan told a crisis management meeting Tuesday.

South Korean Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik visited Hwaseong south of Seoul on Tuesday and watered a dry crop field with a hose. Beneath a blazing sun, dead fish could be seen on the nearly dried-out bed of a reservoir at Bongdam village in Hwaseong.

South Korea expected rain over the weekend, the Korea Meteorological Administration said in Seoul. The agency cannot confirm the dry spell reported in North Korea, but dispatches sent by North Korea to an international weather center indicated little rain over the past several weeks in the North as well, spokesman Jang Hyun-sik said in Seoul.

The drought also has led to deaths of a highly endangered species living in a reservoir in the southern city of Nonsan in South Korea. Hundreds of cockscomb pearl mussels have died since June 14 because the reservoir's water level has drastically dropped, local official Lee Soo-jung said. Officials have been trying to move the cockscomb pearl mussels to water, she said.

Officials blamed high atmospheric pressure over the Korean Peninsula for the drought.