A United Nations (UN) agency reported that North Korea is experiencing its worst drought in 16 years, which raises fears of worsening food shortages in the communist country, where children and many other vulnerable groups have been malnourished under Kim Jong Un’s regime.

The agency and the Food and Agriculture Organization said in a report prepared in collaboration with the European Commission’s Joint Research Center that prolonged dry spells have damaged the country’s production of staple crops for this year, including corn, rice, potatoes, and soybeans.

Both institutes stated that this situation threatens food security for a huge part of its population, which represents a colossal crisis for a country that has previously suffered this kind of situation many times in the last few decades.

The agency’s representative in North Korea, Vincent Martin, said in a news release that seasonal rainfall in the main cereal-producing areas is below that of 2001, when grain production fell to a record low of two million tons.

The report said that while some rain has fallen this month, it was likely to be too late to allow the normal planting and development of main crops that would be harvested not only in October but also in November.

Additionally, the report showed that because of this concerning drought, the production of early season crops that are harvested a month ago, including barley, wheat, and potatoes, dropped to 310,000 tons, which represents more than 30 percent below last year’s 450,000 tons. The delicate detail in this whole picture is that the early season harvest usually accounts for 10 percent of North Korea’s total annual cereal production.

Regarding this issue, the agency said in a statement that increased food imports, commercial or through food, would definitely be needed during the next 12 weeks at the peak of the lean season, ensuring sufficient food supply for the most vulnerable, which includes children and elders.

Previously, the Asian nation experienced chronic food shortages in the 1990s, when a famine caused by several years of bad weather and communist economic policies forced the regime to issue a rare appeal for international help. Some statistics revealed that more than a million people died in the famine.

Since that moment, the communist government has allowed more market-oriented activities and encouraged trade with China in order to increase access to food. Although its own food production has also improved in recent years, humanitarian relief groups still call for donations, warning that shortages remain widespread in the country.

However, international donors have become quite reluctant in recent years to provide any kind of humanitarian aid, considering that Kim Jong Un’s regime has continued to test nuclear weapons and missiles in defiance of UN resolutions.

Back in September, after the fifth nuclear test, South Korea refused to offer humanitarian aid to tens of thousands of flood victims in its neighbor country, explaining that this nation should divert the money spent on weapons to feed its people and provide them a better way of living.

While former President Park Geun-hye took a hard-line stance against North Korea, under the liberal government of President Moon-Jae-in South Korea recently announced it will be readier to consider humanitarian aid. This softer position has been widely criticized by many analysts, claiming that this measure would be quite beneficial to Kim Jong Un’s regime.

Although South Korea is showing a favorable stance, the North has not responded to its proposal on Monday that both sides hold military and humanitarian talks on the border in order to discuss easing tensions.

Apparently, the Defense Ministry of South Korea had wanted to hold a military dialogue with the North three days ago. After not receiving any kind of response, it said it was willing to wait for several more days so both parties can consider some kind of agreement.

So far, the communist regime hasn’t reported any damage from the drought, and its main state-run newspaper urged the country on Friday to produce more goods locally, especially fuel and raw materials to fight what it called “barbaric” international sanctions pushed by the U.S.

In a separate article, the North Korean newspaper criticized the American efforts to pressure China to use its economic leverage to force the regime to abandon its missile and nuclear programs. Despite the sanctions, China has openly remained as North Korea’s most loyal ally.