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Business News/ News / India/  North Korea's acute food shortages can lead to mass starvation, deaths

North Korea's acute food shortages can lead to mass starvation, deaths

Even if food was distributed equally, something inconceivable, you would have hunger-related deaths, experts say

Various experts blame North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Pyongyang for the problem (via REUTERS)Premium
Various experts blame North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Pyongyang for the problem (via REUTERS)

North Korea's chronic food shortages have raised concerns about the possibility of deaths due to starvation, and expert claim the food supply at the moment is ‘well below human need.’ 

Currently, the country is experiencing its worst point since the 1990s famine, known as the “Arduous March," which caused mass starvation and claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, or an estimated 3-5% of the population.

How critical is the food crisis?

As per various trade data, satellite images, and assessments by the United Nations and South Korean authorities the food supply in the country has “dipped below the amount needed to satisfy minimum human needs," according to Lucas Rengifo-Keller, a research analyst at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, as reported by CNN

Even if food was distributed equally – something close to inconceivable in North Korea where the elite and military take priority – Rengifo-Keller said “you would have hunger-related deaths." South Korean officials also believe that deaths from starvation are occurring in some parts of the country.

What are the reasons behind the acute food crisis? 

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly half of North Korea's population was undernourished, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. Three years of closed borders and isolation have only made matters worse.

Various experts blame North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Pyongyang for the problem, as the government ramped up its isolationist tendencies during the pandemic and carried out a record number of missile tests in the past year.

The clampdown has strangled off unofficial trade, which was one of the main lifelines of markets inside North Korea where ordinary North Koreans bought products. People smuggling Chinese products into the country has become next to non-existent since the borders closed.

Experts also point out that the root problem is years of economic mismanagement, and that Kim's efforts to ramp up state control will only make things worse.  

How can things improve from here? 

The North Korean borders need to open and they need to restart trade and they need to bring these things in for agriculture to improve and they need food to feed the people. “But right now they are prioritizing isolation, they are prioritizing repression," Lina Yoon, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch told.

Rengifo-Keller pointed out, it is not in Kim’s interest to allow the unofficial trade of the past to re-emerge in this dynastically ruled country. “The regime does not want a flourishing entrepreneurial class that can threaten its power."

In a similar note, South Korea's Foreign Minister Park Jin suggested that the only way out of this trouble is for North Korea to come back to the dialogue table and accept humanitarian aid. 

North Korea's crop production last year was 4% lower than the year before due to flooding and adverse weather. The combination of these effects, along with the regime's misguided economic policies, could lead to a disastrous impact on the already suffering population. 


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Updated: 04 Mar 2023, 04:38 PM IST
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