North Korea is facing a growing humanitarian crisis due to worsening food shortages and is likely in the worst situation since the famine of the 1990s. Last month, the United States-based 38 North think tank warned that food availability in the country had likely fallen below the bare minimum with regard to human needs.
South Korea's Unification Ministry has also pointed out that the food situation in North Korea appears to have deteriorated, with reports of continuous starvation deaths in some regions.
In response to this crisis, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has called for a “fundamental transformation” in agricultural production. During a meeting of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea, Kim emphasized the importance of hitting grain production targets and transforming production in order to lay the “foundation for the stable and sustained development of agriculture”.
Analysts estimate that North Korea is short around 1 million tons of grain, 20 percent of its annual demand, after the pandemic disrupted both farming and imports from China. Last year, North Korean grain production was estimated at 4.5 million tons, a 3.8% drop from 2020, according to South Korean government assessments.
The North is also under strict international sanctions over its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, which further exacerbates the situation.
Kwon Tae-jin, a senior economist at the private GS&J Institute in South Korea, said that in previous years, half of North Korea’s grain shortfall was usually met by unofficial grain purchases from China, but trade restrictions due to the pandemic have hindered such purchases.
North Korea’s response to the crisis is unclear, but some experts say the country will use the plenary meeting to boost public support of Kim during his confrontations with the United States and its allies over his nuclear ambitions. Despite limited resources, Kim has been aggressively pushing forward with his nuclear weapons and missile programs to pressure Washington into accepting the idea of North Korea as a nuclear power and lifting international sanctions on it.
It remains to be seen how North Korea will address its food issues, but it is clear that the country needs immediate action to prevent further suffering and starvation.
0. “North Korea calls agriculture meeting amid food crisis” UPI News, 27 Feb. 2023, https://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2023/02/27/North-Korea-food-crisis-plenary-meeting-agriculture/5341677487024/
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