North Korea is going hungry as winter comes


Getting information out of North Korea is increasingly difficult. The border has been closed since January last year to prevent the spread of Covid-19 from China. Even getting messages out of the country to family and friends who have defected to South Korea comes at a huge risk.

North Korea has always struggled with food shortages, but the pandemic has made a bad situation worse. Leader Kim Jong-un has compared the current situation to the country’s worst disaster in the 1990’s, known as the “Arduous March”, where hundreds of thousands of people died in a famine.

The situation is not thought to be that bad – yet. There are some hopeful signs. North Korea appears to be preparing to re-open the border with China, but it’s unclear how much trade and aid will be needed to repair the economic damage already wrought on the impoverished country.

This year’s harvest is crucial. Last year’s crops were partly destroyed by a series of typhoons. The United Nations estimates that the country is short of at least two to three months’ supply of food.

To ensure this year is as successful as possible, tens of thousands of people have been sent into the fields to help gather rice and corn, including the army.

Kim Jong-un has also reportedly ordered that every grain of rice in the country is to be secured and that everyone who eats should go and help with the harvest.

This growing concern has been amplified by state media, which has highlighted measures being taken to prevent crop damage and released propaganda posters emphasising efforts to work on food production.

North Korea is facing two major issues with its food supply.

The first is its farming methods. Pyongyang may have invested in new military technology and missiles, but it lacks the modern machinery needed for a speedy and successful harvest, according to experts.

But along with the lack of technology and farming supplies, North Korea is facing a much longer-term problem if it wants to secure its food supply.

The country has been listed by US intelligence agencies as one of 11 countries most vulnerable to the effects of global warming, and the limited area it has to grow crops could be the hardest hit.

North Korea worked with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) on detailed country reports in 2003 and 2012, and is also a signatory to international treaties including the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement.

One reason for this engagement on climate change may be its impact on food production.

The 2012 UNEP report noted that the average temperature in North Korea increased by 1.9°C between 1918 and 2000, among Asia’s fastest warming rates.

According to a 2019 Green Climate Fund report, annual average temperatures in North Korea are further expected to rise by 2.8-4.7°C by the 2050’s.



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