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South Korea drought hits crops, blue-green algae warning issued

Staff Writer |
South Korea is bracing for a severe drought as more farmers report crop failures, and rising water temperatures threaten aquaculture in the country.

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South Korean farmers in Gangwon Province, near the North Korea border, are coping with water shortages in their cabbage and garlic fields, local newspaper Munhwa Ilbo reported Tuesday.

A record low 6.3-inch rainfall in May is hitting vulnerable farms, where cultivators say they have never experienced a severe drought in four decades, according to the report.

Rice, a staple crop, so far remains unaffected, since irrigation techniques provide a steady supply of water to paddies, but "onion and garlic fields are done for," said one 62-year-old farmer in Gyeonggi Province near Seoul.

South Korea's new Moon Jae-in administration is expected to release water from 6 of 16 dammed pools to supply water to four major rivers, but the move might not be enough, the Korea Herald reported Tuesday.

"We have decided not to open all of the 16 dammed pools immediately and completely, because five years have passed since the dams were established and the ecosystem has adjusted to the change already," Seoul said, according to the report.

More action is needed, activists at the Korea Federation for Environmental Movements said, because water released from six of the dams would do "very little to improve the water quality or remove algae."

South Korea's regional environmental agency in Daegu issued a warning on Tuesday that harmful blue-green algae could appear in the middle and upper reaches of the Nakdong River, owing to rising temperatures.

Rising water temperatures have also been blamed for the death of nearly 9 million fish being cultivated for food in the country, costing farmers $9.2 million in damages between 2013 and 2016, according to local news service EDaily on Tuesday.

Moon has pledged to improve the environment, and has announced plans to shut down South Korea's aging coal-fired plants in June.

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