Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat :

Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : Will North Korea Fly Trash Balloons Into South Korea Again? At Look at Rising Tensions Between Them

FILE - South Korean soldier wearing protective gears checks the trash from a balloon presumably sent by North Korea, in Incheon, South Korea, on June 2, 2024. (Im Sun-suk/Yonhap via AP, File)
FILE - South Korean soldier wearing protective gears checks the trash from a balloon presumably sent by North Korea, in Incheon, South Korea, on June 2, 2024. (Im Sun-suk/Yonhap via AP, File)
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Will North Korea Fly Trash Balloons Into South Korea Again? At Look at Rising Tensions Between Them

FILE - South Korean soldier wearing protective gears checks the trash from a balloon presumably sent by North Korea, in Incheon, South Korea, on June 2, 2024. (Im Sun-suk/Yonhap via AP, File)
FILE - South Korean soldier wearing protective gears checks the trash from a balloon presumably sent by North Korea, in Incheon, South Korea, on June 2, 2024. (Im Sun-suk/Yonhap via AP, File)

South Koreans were alert Friday for possible new launches by North Korea of balloons carrying rubbish into the South, a day after Seoul activists flew their own balloons to scatter political leaflets in the North.
Any resumption of trash balloon launches by North Korea would likely prompt South Korea to respond, possibly with anti-North Korean loudspeaker broadcasts or live-fire exercises along their heavily fortified border. North Korea would probably retaliate with its own measures, further escalating tensions between the rivals, the Associated Press said.
Here is a look at the soaring animosities between the Koreas over the balloon launches:
WHY ARE THE KOREAS WRANGLING OVER BALLOONS? Last week, South Korean authorities discovered about 1,000 North Korean-flown balloons carrying manure, cigarette butts, scraps of cloth, waste batteries and vinyl in various parts of South Korea. No highly dangerous materials were found, but some South Koreans worry that North Korea may launch balloons with biological or other hazardous materials in the future.
South Korean officials called the North Korean balloon campaign and other recent provocations “absurd, irrational” and vowed “unbearable” retaliation. They suspended a 2018 military agreement on easing frontline military tensions with North Korea.
Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, said the balloons were a response to campaigns by South Korean civilians to fly propaganda leaflets into North Korea. Analysts say the North's action was also likely designed to trigger a divide in South Korea over its conservative government's tough policy on North Korea.
For years, South Korean civic activists have used helium-filled balloons to drop anti-North Korean leaflets and USB sticks with South Korean dramas and world news in the North, which forbids access to foreign news for most of its 26 million people. The launches infuriate North Korea, which has previously fired at the balloons and destroyed an empty South Korean-built liaison office in the North in response.
ARE THE TENSIONS OVER BALLOONS LIKELY TO RISE? North's vice defense minister, Kim Kang Il, said Sunday that his country would stop the balloon campaign but threatened to resume it if South Korean activists sent leaflets again.
In defiance of the warning, a South Korean civilian group led by North Korean defector Park Sang-hak said it launched 10 balloons from a border town on Thursday carrying 200,000 anti-North Korean leaflets, USB sticks with K-pop songs and South Korean dramas, and one-dollar US bills.
“We sent the truth and love, medicines, one-dollar bills and songs. But a barbaric Kim Jong Un sent us filth and garbage and he hasn’t made a word of apology over that,” Park said.
North Korea hasn't immediately responded. Many experts predict it will resume flying trash-carrying balloons when weather conditions are favorable. North Korea's state media have previously called Park “human scum without an equal in the world."
Following the suspension of the 2018 tension-easing agreement, South Korea is ready to retaliate against a new North Korean balloon campaign by restarting frontline live-fire drills or loudspeaker broadcasts of anti-North Korean messages and outside news. Such steps are likely to further enrage North Korea.
IS COLD WAR-STYLE PSYCHOLOGICAL WARFARE RETURNING? Flying balloons with propaganda leaflets into each other's territory was one of the most common psychological campaigns by the two Koreas during the 1950-53 Korean War and at the height of the Cold War.
But the North Korean balloons sent into South Korea in recent days carried only garbage, not political leaflets. It was the North's first balloon campaign in seven years.
In a Memorial Day speech Thursday, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said that “North Korea carried out a despicable provocation that would make any normal country ashamed of itself.” US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller earlier called the trash-carrying balloons “disgusting" and “childish.”
Frontline loudspeaker broadcasts were also used by the rival Koreas for psychological warfare during the Cold War, along with giant frontline billboards and propaganda radio broadcasts.
In recent years, the two Koreas have agreed to halt such activities but sometimes resumed them when tensions rose. South Korean officials say they have no legal grounds to ban private citizens from flying balloons to North Korea, after the country’s constitutional court last year struck down a law criminalizing such leafleting as a violation of free speech.
Many in South Korea believe a resumption of loudspeaker broadcasts would severely sting North Korea's leadership because of fears the broadcasts would demoralize frontline troops and residents of the rigidly controlled society and eventually weaken Kim Jong Un's leadership.
In 2015, when South Korea restarted loudspeaker broadcasts after a lapse of 11 years, North Korea fired artillery rounds across the border, prompting South Korea to return fire. No casualties were reported.



Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : Climate Change Imperils Drought-Stricken Morocco’s Cereal Farmers and Its Food Supply

 A farmer works in a wheat field on the outskirts of Kenitra, Morocco, Friday, June 21, 2024. (AP)
A farmer works in a wheat field on the outskirts of Kenitra, Morocco, Friday, June 21, 2024. (AP)
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Climate Change Imperils Drought-Stricken Morocco’s Cereal Farmers and Its Food Supply

 A farmer works in a wheat field on the outskirts of Kenitra, Morocco, Friday, June 21, 2024. (AP)
A farmer works in a wheat field on the outskirts of Kenitra, Morocco, Friday, June 21, 2024. (AP)

Golden fields of wheat no longer produce the bounty they once did in Morocco. A six-year drought has imperiled the country's entire agriculture sector, including farmers who grow cereals and grains used to feed humans and livestock.

The North African nation projects this year's harvest will be smaller than last year in both volume and acreage, putting farmers out of work and requiring more imports and government subsidies to prevent the price of staples like flour from rising for everyday consumers.

"In the past, we used to have a bounty — a lot of wheat. But during the last seven or eight years, the harvest has been very low because of the drought," said Al Housni Belhoussni, a small-scale farmer who has long tilled fields outside of the city of Kenitra.

Belhoussni's plight is familiar to grain farmers throughout the world confronting a hotter and drier future. Climate change is imperiling the food supply and shrinking the annual yields of cereals that dominate diets around the world — wheat, rice, maize and barley.

In North Africa, among the regions thought of as most vulnerable to climate change, delays to annual rains and inconsistent weather patterns have pushed the growing season later in the year and made planning difficult for farmers.

In Morocco, where cereals account for most of the farmed land and agriculture employs the majority of workers in rural regions, the drought is wreaking havoc and touching off major changes that will transform the makeup of the economy. It has forced some to leave their fields fallow. It has also made the areas they do elect to cultivate less productive, producing far fewer sacks of wheat to sell than they once did.

In response, the government has announced restrictions on water use in urban areas — including on public baths and car washes — and in rural ones, where water going to farms has been rationed.

"The late rains during the autumn season affected the agriculture campaign. This year, only the spring rains, especially during the month of March, managed to rescue the crops," said Abdelkrim Naaman, the chairman of Nalsya. The organization has advised farmers on seeding, irrigation and drought mitigation as less rain falls and less water flows through Morocco's rivers.

The Agriculture Ministry estimates that this year's wheat harvest will yield roughly 3.4 million tons (3.1 billion kilograms), far less than last year's 6.1 million tons (5.5 billion kilograms) — a yield that was still considered low. The amount of land seeded has dramatically shrunk as well, from 14,170 square miles (36,700 square kilometers) to 9,540 square miles (24,700 square kilometers).

Such a drop constitutes a crisis, said Driss Aissaoui, an analyst and former member of the Moroccan Ministry for Agriculture.

"When we say crisis, this means that you have to import more," he said. "We are in a country where drought has become a structural issue."

Leaning more on imports means the government will have to continue subsidizing prices to ensure households and livestock farmers can afford dietary staples for their families and flocks, said Rachid Benali, the chairman of the farming lobby COMADER.

The country imported nearly 2.5 million tons of common wheat between January and June. However, such a solution may have an expiration date, particularly because Morocco's primary source of wheat, France, is facing shrinking harvests as well.

The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization ranked Morocco as the world's sixth-largest wheat importer this year, between Türkiye and Bangladesh, which both have much bigger populations.

"Morocco has known droughts like this and in some cases known droughts that las longer than 10 years. But the problem, this time especially, is climate change," Benali said.