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North Korea’s Military boasts hide real food crisis

Experts claim that North Korea is going through a severe food crisis.

Although the nation has long-standing food shortages, recent border restrictions, bad weather, and sanctions have made matters worse.

A “major reform” in farm policy will be discussed in a meeting of top officials set to take place at the end of February, according to state media.

In light of “pressing” farming concerns, this is a “very significant and urgent work,” according to news aggregator KCNA Watch.

The announcement coincides with Pyongyang’s ongoing military prowess.

According to reports, South Korea’s unification ministry has also raised the issue of food shortages and requested assistance from the World Food Programme (WFP).

The North produced 180,000 tonnes less food in 2022 than in 2021, according to satellite images provided by the South Korean government.

The WFP expressed concern in June about the possibility that extreme weather events like drought and flooding could lower the production of both winter and spring crops. However, late last year, state media said that the country was going through its “second worst” drought on record.

According to predictions, this year’s bad harvests have increased food prices, and as a result, consumers have been looking for less expensive options, according to Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein, a contributor to the North Korea-focused publication 38North.org.

According to Rimjin-gang, a North Korean magazine published in Japan, corn prices have increased by 20% at the beginning of 2023 due to rising demand for the less popular but more economical staple.

According to Mr. Silberstein, “if people are buying more corn that means food in general is getting more expensive, and staple goods like rice in particular.” Nowadays, the cost of a kilogram of the crop in North Korea is 3,400 won (£3.10; $3.80).

One of the poorest nations in the world is North Korea. There are few recent figures, however the CIA World Factbook projects its gross domestic product per person to be around $1,700 in 2015.

South Korea’s aid offer is deemed “absurd” by North Korea.

Why does North Korea lack sufficient food?

Yet, given North Korea’s murky economy, the precise condition and figures are unclear.

According to James Fretwell, an analyst at NK News, “there is no way for any outsiders to travel into the country and check for themselves what the situation is because to North Korea’s stringent Covid border checks on commodities and people.”

Also, he continued, these measures have made it more challenging for organizations outside of North Korea to provide assistance when a crisis arises.

Since January 2020, North Korea has imposed severe restrictions on cross-border trade and travel.

As the country director for South Korea for the non-profit Liberty in North Korea (Link), Sokeel Park characterized the regime’s attitude to the pandemic as “extreme and paranoid.”

According to Mr. Park, whose organization assists in resettling North Korean refugees in South Korea or the US, the availability of essentials in the North has been declining since since the outbreak began. Link has heard numerous reliable accounts of people starving to death, according to Mr. Park.

Humanitarian aid from the international community has also significantly decreased for the nation; according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, North Korea received $2.3 million (£1.9 million) from international organizations and other agencies last year, down from $14 million in 2021.

While border closures may have contributed to this, several aid workers told the BBC that tighter international sanctions in reaction to North Korea’s military provocations have also made it more difficult to distribute humanitarian aid.

Nonetheless, there are some indications that cross-border business is picking up again. About 90% of North Korea’s trade is conducted by trucks, according to a research published last week by Nikkei Asia.

But, this does not necessarily imply that the level of living for common North Koreans will rise. According to Mr. Park, the dictatorship has spent a lot of money on propaganda and missile development at the expense of society. More than 70 ballistic missiles were launched by Pyongyang last year, setting a new record.

Among these were intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs, capable of reaching the US mainland. At a military parade earlier this month, it flaunted the largest-ever collection of ICBMs.

While acknowledging how difficult life is for the average North Korean, the leadership nevertheless places a high priority on missile launches, propaganda and pageantry for the Kim family, and tight controls on the populace, Mr. Park continued.

A famine as catastrophic as the one the nation endured in the mid- to late 1990s, described in official papers as the “Arduous March,” is feared to occur as a result of the situation on the ground continuing to deteriorate. There have been between 600,000 and one million deaths, according to estimates.

We don’t appear to be at the famine’s proportions from the 1990s, according to Mr. Silberstein. “Yet, the margins are very slim. So, even a modestly reduced food supply could potentially have negative effects.”

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