North Korea has been extremely active recently with repeated threats against the West and its pacific allies, launching dozens of ballistic missiles in frequent displays of force. However, despite the military posturing, satellite imagery has South Korean agricultural experts concerned that the North is about to experience massive famine due to an extended period of drought like conditions and mismanaged funding.
North Korean state media has not hidden the fact that there are some changes that need to be made, announcing that a meeting is being held at the end of February to discuss some “fundamental changes” being made to the country’s agricultural system.
Despite worries, Pyongyang has already voiced its opposition to receiving any foreign aid, with the state newspaper Rodong Simmun going so far as to call it “poisoned candy” and the gateway to subjugation and plundering.
Many experts believe that North Korea’s food supply issue started when the pandemic first hit. There were strict policies implemented on travel into the country, including on trade and diplomatic missions. These rules were very similar to China’s infamous “zero COVID” policies that led to mass protests and economic strain throughout the pandemic.
These strict guidelines led the food supplies in North Korea to dwindle away as the regime refused to open its borders to trade from even its closest ally, China. As of February 2023, there remains a strict policy on travelling into the country, however trickles of trade have began with China once more, providing some economic relief to the already poverty stricken isolationist nation.
Pyongyang has also reduced daily food rations to its soldiers, a report by South Korea’s Dong-a Ilbo newspaper said last week. The cut in meals is the first since 2000, signaling the dire state of food security in the nation.
The US-based Korean-monitoring organization 38 North stated that North Korea’s “food availability has likely fallen below the bare minimum with regard to human needs” and the World Food Programme estimated about 10.7 million people, more than 40% of the population, were undernourished and required humanitarian assistance.
Another dimension to this potential crisis is the tightened sanctions that have been put on the country by the United States and it’s allies in reaction to increased military tests and threats from Pyongyang. North Korea has launched over 90 missiles in the last year alone, far outdoing any other year in recent history, and experts assume that significant amounts of their budget have gone into the missile systems and the propaganda to display them.
With the international community being strict on the Kim Jong Un regime, the failed agricultural sector, and the restricted trade, this culminates into the worrying indicators that the country may experience another famine soon, much like the last. North Korea experienced a similar food shortage in the 1990s that left between 225,000 and 235,000 dead according to the North Korean government, or between 600,000 and 2 million dead according to other sources. Analysts do not believe that the country is yet at the 1990s level of famine yet, but that the margin is incredibly thin, and worsening.
Historically, the country has always struggled with self sufficiency and has repeatedly refused to accept aid from most outside sources. Few are allowed into the country to see what the real situation is, but from what experts can see, the situation is looking increasingly dire. Although North Korean state media has commented reassuringly on the situation, there is no real way of knowing what the full scale of a potential catastrophe may be. The important meeting is set to take place at the end of February and is said to include high ranking party officials.