MS Risk Blog

Famine in North Korea

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This report will analyse the impacts of the Pandemic but also the President of North Korea’s actions in affecting and causing the famine in the country that we are seeing today. The past year has created isolated cities all around the world, with people in every country being affected. However, how has one of the most isolated countries in the world even before the pandemic coped? Kim Jong Un the Supreme Leader of North Korea has stated that no one has the coronavirus and has ever had it in his country. Arguably, this statement should be questioned due to the country being situated next to China, where the pandemic first took place and despite almost every country around the world being impacted by the virus. Additionally, the North Korea leader isn’t known for his honesty and reliability. In fact, North Korea seems to be heavily impacted by the pandemic as much and if not worse than other countries.

North Korea relies heavily on imports, especially from China. This is due to the geography of the country. It is heavily mountainous meaning it doesn’t have vast spaces of land, with fertile soil. Thus, making it dependent on foreign imports. Additionally, last summer the country was hit by two major storms, which caused vast floods that damaged the few crops the country had and exacerbated the shortages. However, due to the global pandemic imports have decreased for the country due to high demand but small supplies. This has created a famine in parts of North Korea. Due to small amounts of import still coming in, the prices of commodities have sky rocketed. Some prices of items are 7 times higher than what they were in October 2020. An example is sugar. For the majority of North Koreans, the supply is so low that even if they do manage to find products they need, a lot of the time they are too expensive for them to buy. However, it is not just supply and demand because North Korea has rejected and continues to reject aid from the international community and many of its external aids within the country have been forced to leave and quit. In fact reports suggest that North Korea restricted imports of staple foods from China from as long ago as last August and then cut off all trade, including food and medicine in October.

It is a dire situation and on 8 April, Kim warned the party conference that the citizens should prepare for hard times ahead and warns of a famine similar to the 1990’s, which left millions dead. The previous famine was due to the fall of the Soviet Union and experts believe around 3 million people died.  “It is not unusual for Kim Jong-un to talk about difficulties and hardship but this time the language is quite stark and that’s different,” Colin Zwirko, North Korea analyst at NK News, told the BBC. “Last October for instance, he gave a speech where he said that he himself failed to bring about enough changes. But mentioning explicitly that he’s decided to carry out a new Arduous March is not something he has said before.”

The warnings of the crisis have been apparent for months now. A month ago, the UN warned of a “serious food crisis” in the country, that had already caused malnourishment and starvation. Additionally, there have been countless incidences of hardship at the Chinese border where food smuggling has been recorded. However, Kim has upped the punishments of smuggling describing it as “anti-socialist” and “enemy” behavior. Despite this the smuggling of food and resources across the border is still occurring due to the North Koreans being desperate.

Kim Jong Un has been very provocative in recent years with his nuclear weapons. Just last month the Supreme Leader fired two short range missiles, which both South Korea and Japan felt. This has increased tensions between the countries, the US, and the UN. Kim Jong Un’s pride needs to be put aside and accept international aid if he wants to protect his country and people from both the pandemic and famine. However, the North Korean leader could currently pin more of the blame of the country’s economic dire state on the Covid-19 pandemic and the strict economic sanctions designed by the UN to curb his nuclear weapons programme. This could be used as an example to the North Koreans as an excuse for his non diplomatic actions. However of course both of these actions play a part in the country’s suffering, but it still doesn’t excuse North Korea’s provocative stance in recent years and months with nuclear weapons and why Kim has rejected international aid and trade. In fact, last year trade with China dropped 80%, despite its reliability. Overall, Kim needs to take a more diplomatic stance with the international community in order to receive aid and support for the people of his country.