Food short­ages still stalk N. Korea


There’s an ur­gent food cri­sis in com­mu­nist North Korea, where short­ages af­fect up to 70 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion. Ac­cord­ing to an alarm­ing new U.N. hu­man­i­tar­ian re­port, some 18 mil­lion peo­ple out of the pop­u­la­tion of 24 mil­lion are con­sid­ered “food in­se­cure” and don’t have ac­cess to an ad­e­quate and di­verse diet to live healthily. To meet the chal­lenge the U.N. needs US$111 mil­lion for hu­man­i­tar­ian aid over the next year.

The quaintly ti­tled Demo­cratic Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of Korea (DPRK) is no stranger to short­ages and the re­cent hu­man­i­tar­ian ap­peal evokes the ques­tion, “Haven’t we heard this be­fore?”

In­deed in this bizarre com­mu­nist king­dom of OZ, where the regime fa­vors neu­trons for its nu­clear weapons over nu­tri­tion for its peo­ple, the food cri­sis is truly chronic, cycli­cal and cal­lous to say the least. But at the same time, it’s very real.

The U.N. ‘s res­i­dent co­or­di­na­tor Ghu­lam Isaczai ad­vises, “DPR Korea is both a si­lent and un­der­funded hu­man­i­tar­ian sit­u­a­tion ... pro­tracted and se­ri­ous needs for mil­lions of peo­ple are per­sis­tent and re­quire sus­tained fund­ing.” Fund­ing for sim­i­lar U.N. hu­man­i­tar­ian ap­peals last year reached just un­der half of the pro­jected goal.

Mal­nu­tri­tion stalks the land where 28 per­cent of chil­dren un­der five (540,000), face stunted growth while an­other 4 per­cent (90,000) are acutely mal­nour­ished (wast­ing) ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Nu­tri­tion Sur­vey. Th­ese are the kinds of strik­ing statis­tics one finds in places like So­ma­lia.

The U.N.’s Isaczai as­serts, “Hu­man­i­tar­ian needs must be kept sep­a­rate from po­lit­i­cal is­sues to be able to en­sure min­i­mum living con­di­tions for the most vul­ner­a­ble, es­pe­cially women, chil­dren and the el­derly.”

U.N. spe­cial­ized agen­cies like the World Food Pro­gram (WFP) and Food and Agri­cul­tural Or­ga­ni­za­tion (FAO) are among lead agen­cies op­er­at­ing in North Korea. The WFP plans to feed over 1.8 mil­lion chil­dren and preg­nant women in the com­ing year. Much of the ac­tual aid comes from South Korea, Ja­pan and the USA.

Back in the late 1990s floods and famine trig­gered a mas­sive hu­man­i­tar­ian emer­gency which killed at least a mil­lion peo­ple. Since that time North Korea’s mon­u­men­tally in­ef­fi­cient so­cial­ist col­lec­tive farms have fallen short each year, thus cre­at­ing a food cri­sis which cyn­i­cally shad­ows each grow­ing sea­son. At the same time the regime-run public dis­tri­bu­tion sys­tem is ide­o­log­i­cally driven and has over forty cat­e­gories of ra­tions for the cit­i­zens. The of­fi­cial goal of the public dis­tri­bu­tion sys­tem is 573 grams of food per per­son daily. In fact the num­ber is closer to 383 grams daily.

The chal­lenges are steep; seven mil­lion peo­ple have no ac­cess to clean drink­ing wa­ter. For ex­am­ple only 56 per­cent of schools have piped wa­ter while only 54 per­cent of health fa­cil­i­ties and 38 per­cent of nurs­eries have run­ning wa­ter.

Yet there has been a quiet tug of war be­tween hu­man­i­tar­ian agen­cies who wish to dis­trib­ute food and medicine up against a para­noid and se­cre­tive regime that wishes to con­trol all the dis­tri­bu­tion and es­pe­cially ac­cess in re­mote parts of the DPRK. “Over the last cou­ple of years, the gov­ern­ment has more openly rec­og­nized needs in the coun­try and in­di­cated an in­ter­est in work­ing closely with the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity in ad­dress­ing those needs,” the re­port con­firms.

“The scale of needs in the DPR Korea con­tin­ues to be of grave con­cern to the in­ter­na­tional hu­man­i­tar­ian com­mu­nity,” the U.N. re­port adds.

Yet in sick­en­ing jux­ta­po­si­tion to the en­dur­ing food short­ages, supreme leader Kim Jong Un and the regime’s lead­er­ship live in rel­a­tive splen­dor.

Back in

the 1970’s main­land China’s agri­cul­ture was still locked into this so­cial­ist cookie mold and food short­ages were en­demic. Deng Xiaop­ing’s far-reach­ing agri­cul­tural re­forms al­lowed China a pri­vate farm sec­tor which blos­somed and be­came a foun­da­tion of the over­all mod­ern­iza­tion process. To­day the DPRK re­sem­bles Mao’s China in many ways, right down to the cult like ado­ra­tion of the Kim fam­ily lead­er­ship.

De­spite much prod­ding from Bei­jing, the Py­ongyang rulers refuse to al­low a “Chi­nese model” to pos­si­bly re­vive the mori­bund Marx­ist econ­omy.

In­deed the grim statis­tics from the DPRK “so­cial­ist par­adise” equally pose a wider ques­tion, es­pe­cially for neigh­bor­ing and pros­per­ous South Korea. How much longer can this land on life sup­port from its sup­posed enemies stay afloat? John J. Met­zler is a United Na­tions cor­re­spon­dent cov­er­ing diplo­matic and de­fense is­sues. He is the au­thor of “Di­vided Dy­namism: The Diplo­macy of Sep­a­rated Na­tions: Ger­many, Korea, China” (2014). Con­tact jjm­col­umn@earth­

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