hUnger People are desperate. A hungry man in his 70s stands guard outside a Communist Party office in the northern North Korean city of Hyesan on Feb. 10. As party members went to work, he yelled: “I’m going to starve to death if this goes on, please feed me.” He was soon joined by other hungry people. A skirmish ensued when security guards tried to disperse the crowd. In a country that causes riots and you can be sent to the Gulag, or worse, such dissent seems to be very rare.
such events by Linjin River, a covert group of journalists operating inside North Korea, has offered a glimpse into the isolated country’s growing food crisis.this United Nations An estimated 42 percent of North Koreans will be undernourished between 2019 and 2021. Last year’s harvest was particularly poor due to harsh weather conditions and a shortage of fertilizers – partly due to the country’s self-imposed three-year quarantine. Total grain production was only 4.5 million tons, down 3.8 percent from the previous year, according to the Korea Rural Development Agency.This is less than 1.2 million tons United Nations’The World Food Program estimates that it will need to feed the country in 2019.
Its totalitarian agricultural system has long failed to produce enough food for North Korea’s 26 million people. A famine in the 1990s claimed at least 200,000 lives — as many as 3 million, by some estimates. The current hunger situation is less severe. “We’re definitely not there yet,” said Lucas Renjifor-Keller of the Peterson Institute for International Economics think tank in Washington. But, he added, “it doesn’t take much to get to that level.” The South Korean government has sounded the alarm. It believes some North Koreans are already starving. Horrific reports, including of a 7-year-old starved to death along with two family members, are spreading across the border.
Choi Eun-ju of the Sejong Institute, a think tank near Seoul, said trade was the most likely source of relief. But while official cross-border trade has been increasing, it is well below pre-covid-19 levels; Chinese trade figures show North Korea imported more than 56,000 tonnes of flour and 53 tonnes of grain in 2022. Also, in the past, most of North Korea’s food was imported illegally. The Kim Jong-un regime decided to close its borders in January 2020, ostensibly as a defense against the pandemic, but restricted imports of such food, as well as fertilizers. The new border fence, guarded by soldiers on a shoot-to-kill order, has apparently reduced food smuggling to near zero.
Prices for rice and maize, which account for 98 percent of the country’s cereal production, hinted at the seriousness of the situation.Both were at five-year highs in March, according to the data dailya Seoul-based media outlet with ties inside North Korea. The cost of corn has risen the most, suggesting that North Koreans are being forced to opt for the lower-calorie crop. daily Ordinary people have also been called on to donate “patriotic rice” to the country’s armed forces, the report said.
The situation could get worse; a lean season ahead of the first rice and maize harvest known as the “barley hump” is looming. The weather also showed no signs of easing. Winter snowfall, which provides meltwater for irrigation, has been below average. Admittedly unreliable North Korean media warned of a possible drought.
The regime of Kim Jong-un is very worried and has repeatedly acknowledged the crisis. At a Communist Party meeting earlier this month, Mr Kim called on his cadres to usher in a “new era” of rural development. This intervention is also worrisome. Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein of the Stimson Center, a Washington think-tank, notes that the famines of the 1990s were ultimately brought to an end by small-scale private farming and trade, which was created in the country by Stalinist agriculture and distribution. Rising from the ashes of the system. He and other North Korea watchers believe the markets should be enough to prevent another severe famine. However, the Kim regime appears intent on tightening its grip on them.
Linjin River The state has banned the sale of grain in markets in some cities, giving state-run grain stores, which sell grain at below-market prices, a monopoly, the report said. Other elements of Mr Kim’s “new era,” such as new irrigation systems and farm equipment, are longstanding but unfulfilled regime promises.north korean person to talk to daily Said they wanted the government to focus on distributing food and fertilizer. “People who are on the brink of starvation are less likely to do well” on the farm, one said.
world food program Has tripled the budget for North Korea for the first half of 2023.but United Nations Staff of the agency are barred from entering the country, and there is no indication that will change. In February, North Korean regime newspapers mocked foreign aid as “poisonous sugar” and an insult to the country’s “honor and dignity.”
South Korea has also offered aid, but only if North Korea resumes talks to end its nuclear weapons program. But Mr Kim sees nuclear weapons as a guarantee of his regime’s continued existence. In March alone, North Korea launched five missiles, including an intercontinental ballistic missile and what state media said was the country’s first submarine-launched cruise missile. For the Kim regime, guns will always trump butter.■