ROME, ITALY — More than 10 million people in North Korea are facing severe food shortages because of one of the worst harvests in 10 years, a United Nations’ food security assessment found.

Food crop production, which was estimated at 4.9 million tonnes in 2018-19, was hampered by dry spells, heat waves and flooding. It is the lowest level of production since 2008-09. Limited access to agricultural inputs like fertilizer, fuel and spare parts hurt production, the UN said.

“Many families survive on a monotonous diet of rice and kimchi most of the year, eating very little protein,” said Nicolas Bidault, co-lead of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and World Food Program missions and WFP Senior Regional Vulnerability Analysis and Mapping (VAM) Adviser. “This is worrying because many communities are already extremely vulnerable and any further cuts to already minimal food rations, could push them deep into a hunger crisis.”

The UN assessment found low food consumption levels, limited dietary diversity and families forced to cut meals or eat less.

The lack of dietary diversity is worrisome for young children and pregnant and breastfeeding women, who are the most vulnerable to malnutrition, the UN said.

The assessment found that the government’s Public Distribution System, on which a large portion of the population relies, has been forced to cut rations to the lowest ever level for this time of the year. There are concerns that in the absence of substantial external assistance, rations may be further cut during the critical months of June-October, at the peak of the lean season.

“We are concerned about this year’s wheat, barley and potato crops, which play an important role in meeting household food needs during the upcoming lean season, despite accounting for only about 10% of total production,” said Mario Zappacosta, FAO’s senior economist and co-lead of the mission. “Our assessment shows that reduced rains and lack of snow cover during winter, which left crops exposed to freezing temperatures, cut production by about 20%.”

The assessment’s recommendations include scaling up food assistance to meet immediate needs, and prioritizing areas where food needs are greatest and where climate impacts are the most severe. It also recommends an expansion of nutrition programs and disaster risk reduction measures to enable at-risk communities to better cope with future shocks.

The assessment also recommends a series of measures to bolster agricultural production, including importing fertilizers and other agricultural chemicals, water pumps, greenhouses, and vegetable seed, as well as upgrading grain drying equipment, threshing machines and storage facilities in order to reduce post-harvest losses.