The so-called Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) possesses nuclear weapons and tested three short range (62 miles) missiles in recent days – real missiles, and not just the work of Photoshop, as occurred when the regime announced it had test-fired a missile from a submarine in May. In June, the state’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) announced that scientists had developed a drug, Kumdang-2, that cured ebola, SARS and MERS, made from ginseng grown using fertiliser combined with rare earth elements. Again in June, an article in the Rodong Sinmun, the largest newspaper in the country, threatened the United States with cyberattacks. That same week, the KCNA revealed that there is famine in North Korea.
Unusually for the dastardly Norkos, that last one wasn’t hyperbole. It was confirmed by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), whose representatives visited the nation’s breadbasket region of North and South Hwanghae to discover that harvests of barley, potatoes and wheat might be down by 50 percent due to drought, the makings of famine in North Korea.
North Korea is enduring what state media have termed “the worst drought in 100 years.” The FAO reported that wells are dry and reservoirs low after rain- and snowfall that was less than normal in 2014 and early 2015. Liliana Balbi, who occupies a senior position in the FAO, stated that there was at present insufficient information to state definitively if people were starving, but described the situation as “serious” and “on the borderline.” In May, an FAO report revealed that 10.5 million people went hungry in 2014, compared to 4.8 million in 1990, so it’s clear that famine in North Korea is to be expected. El Nino, a stream of warmer water in the central and east-central equatorial Pacific, bears a large share of the blame for famine in North Korea, reducing rainfall as it does. Balbi added that matters were exacerbated by the failure of the government to adequately maintain irrigation canals and other agricultural infrastructure.
It is foreseen that 2.3 million tons of rice will be produced in 2015, 12 percent down on 2014, which was itself depressed. It’s much less than the five-year average. The information received so far by the FAO indicates that there will be a “severe contraction” in rice plantings.
There are UN sanctions on this country on account of its nuclear programme and missile launches. There was famine in North Korea in the 1990s that came to be known as the Arduous March, with El Nino again in the frame. Around a million folk died. People ate tree bark and rice roots. There were reports of cannibalism, with one man executed for consuming his own offspring. Joshua Stanton, the force behind the website, One Free Korea, proclaimed, “If you hear enough people say the same thing, you start to think they can’t all be lying.”
North Korea has depended upon food aid from overseas ever since. Even this has been restricted in the last few years because of limitations on the actions of humanitarian workers and reluctance to permit monitoring of food distribution. Funding for UN agencies in the DPRK plummeted to under $50 million in 2014, when it had been $300 million in 2004.
South Korea is also suffering from drought and could not supply much food even if it wished to. This latter is unlikely after its northern neighbour rejected a previous offer that was contingent on ceasing nuclear and missile development. Then, the DPRK described President Park Geun-hye as a “whore” and her predecessor as a “rat.”
North Korea already receives almost all its oil and half of its food from China. Additional aid will certainly be subject to conditions North Korea finds humiliating: cutting back on its nuclear and missile programs and undertaking talks. Talks were last held in Beijing in December 2008. Its would be wise for North Korea to soften its position, but the country often fails in this department.
Timothy Chilman used to work in IT. Once, in Sydney, he was turned down for a job because he was “too flamboyant” (“Someone who wears green tartan suspenders to a job interview probably isn’t going to fit in here”). Timothy then became an English teacher. University students in Bangkok complained that he was “too enthusiastic” and company students in Prague complained that he was “too theatrical.”