N. Korea Food Shortage Worsens Amid COVID, but No Famine Yet


SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea’s chronic. Food shortages have no doubt worsened due to the Covid-19 pandemic. And speculation has swirled about the country’s food insecurity. As its top leaders prepare to discuss “very important and urgent tasks.” Formulation of a sound agricultural policy.

Unconfirmed reports suggest that an unspecified number of people in North Korea are dying of starvation. But experts say there are no signs of mass death or famine. They say the upcoming meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party is likely intended. To rally support for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. As he pushes ahead with his nuclear weapons program in defiance of intense US-led pressure and sanctions.

“Kim Jong Un cannot advance his nuclear program steadily if. He fails to fundamentally address the. Food problem because public support will waver,” said Lim Yul-chul. Aprofessor at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University in Seoul. “The meeting is being called. To strengthen internal unity to pull together ideas to tackle food shortages.”

An extended plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party is scheduled. For late February. Its specific agenda is unknown. But the party’s powerful Politburo has previously. Said that “a turning point is needed to dynamically promote radical change in agricultural development.”

The meeting will be the first plenary session of the party convened solely. To discuss agricultural issues, although these are often key topics at larger North Korean conferences. Boosting crop production was one of the 12 economic priorities. Adopted by the party at a plenary meeting in December.

It is difficult to know the exact situation in the north, which kept its borders virtually closed during the pandemic. Food shortages and economic hardship have continued since. A famine in the mid-1990s killed an estimated several hundred thousand people.

In his first public speech since taking over as leader from his father in late 2011. Kim promised that North Koreans would “never have to tighten their belts again.”

During the first few years of his rule, the economy enjoyed modest growth. As Kim tolerated some market-oriented actions and increased exports of coal. And other minerals to China, the North’s main ally and largest trading partner. More recently, however, harsh international sanctions on Kim’s nuclear program. Severe pandemic-related restrictions and outright mismanagement have caused severe economic damage.

N. Korea Food Shortage Worsens Amid COVID, but No Famine Yet

South Korea estimates North Korea’s grain production last year was about 4.5 million tons. Down 3.8% from a year earlier. Annual grain production has plateaued at 4.8 million tonnes from about 4.4 million tonnes over the past decade.

North Korea needs about 5.5 million tons of grain to feed 25 million people, so it’s usually less than about 1 million tons per year. About half of the gap is usually covered by informal grain purchases from China. The rest is an unsolved deficit, said Kwon Tae-jin, senior economist at the private GS&J Institute in South Korea.

Kwon said restrictions on cross-border trade du. To the pandemic likely hampered informal rice purchases from China. Efforts by North Korean authorities to tighten controls. And limit market activities have also worsened the situation, he said.

“I believe North Korea is facing its worst food situation since Kim Jong Un took power this year,” Kwon said.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry spokesman Koo Byungsa. Said an unknown number of North Koreans died of starvation. But the problem was not as severe as the famine of the mid-1990s, which stemmed from natural disasters, Soviet losses. Aid and mismanagement.

Ministry officials said the current food crisis is more of a distribution problem tha. An absolute shortage of grain as most of the crops harvested last year have not yet been consum. Food insecurity has worsened as authorities. Have tightened controls on private grain sales in markets. Instead attempting to limit grain trading to state-run facilities.

Tough measures taken by the Kim government to control the epidemic. Have provided effective tools for tightening a grip on the kind of market activity that previously helped. Fuel strong economic growth. But could eventually erode the government’s authoritarian rule, analysts say.

Kwon said the current food shortage is unlikely to cause mass deaths because food. Is still available in the market, albeit at a higher price. During the famine of the mid-1990s, grain was hard to come by, he said.

North Korea watchdog groups report rising prices for rice and corn – the two most important staples – although corn prices. Have recently stabilized in some regions.

“If North Korea really saw people dying of hunger and facing chaos, it wouldn’t publicly say something like ‘very important. And urgent work’ for an agricultural policy,” said Ahn Kyung-soo, head of DPRKHEALTH.ORG. An answer focuses on core health issues

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