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North Korea is releasing emergency military rice reserves as its food shortage worsens, South Korea’s spy agency said Tuesday, with a heat wave and drought reducing the country’s supply.

North Korea’s reported food problems come as its moribund economy continues to be battered by the protracted COVID-19 pandemic. While mass starvation and social chaos have not been reported, observers expect a further deterioration of North Korea’s food situation until the autumn harvest.

Seoul’s National Intelligence Service told a closed-door parliamentary committee meeting that North Korea is supplying rice reserved for wartime use to citizens with little food, other laborers and rural state agencies, according to Ha Tae-keung, one of the lawmakers who attended the session.

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