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DPRK Humanitarian Situation

Four in 10 North Koreans are chronically short of food and further cuts to already minimal rations are expected after the worst harvest in a decade, the United Nations said on 03 May 2019. Official rations are down to 300 grams - under 11 ounces - per person per day, the lowest ever for this time of year, the UN said following a food security assessment based on UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP) missions to the country last month and in November 2018. It found that 10.1 million people were suffering from severe food insecurity, "meaning they do not have enough food till the next harvest," WFP spokesman Herve Verhoosel said. North Korea's population is around 25.2 million, according to its Central Bureau of Statistics, the UN report said.

Since the famine began in 1995, some sources estimated that around 10 percent of North Korea's population had perished from starvation and hunger-related illnesses.  While conditions have improved somewhat since the peak of the crisis in 1996-97, chronic food shortages remain, and are likely to continue for the foreseeable future.  Moreover, North Korea's health situation remains serious, principally due to resource shortages, lack of drugs and medical supplies.  Water and heating systems in hospitals and clinics often do not function.  There has been a re-emergence of diseases such as tuberculosis and malaria, previously under control, and diarrhoea is common due to contaminated and untreated water sources, inadequate sanitation facilities and poor hygiene.  Existing health services are unable to tackle the increasing health problems and the prevalence of acute malnutrition.  As a result, mortality rates remain excessively high.

In August 1995 the DPRK government took the unprecedented step of seeking emergency assistance from the international community.  The international humanitarian operations in the DPRK, led by the World Food Programme and the UN Development Programme, followed a two-fold strategy.  On the one hand they focused on food security and health, targeting food aid, improvements in health services, and programs to support water purification and improved sanitation.  The second major component was recovery and rehabilitation, focussing on disaster mitigation, environment protection and improvements in agricultural production.

There was a significant improvement in the knowledge base of the DPRK humanitarian situation following the release of the WFP/UNICEF 1998 Nutrition Survey.  The survey covered 130 counties and sampled the height, weight, and date of birth data of children aged between 6 months and 7 years.  The survey found acute malnutrition in 16 percent and chronic malnutrition in 62 percent of all children surveyed. 

Despite the various internal and external negative factors, during 2004 the North Korean economy achieved its sixth consecutive year of above-zero economic growth since 1999 and is continuing to recover, albeit slow. As greater emphasis was being placed on actual profit in terms of economic policy management, North Korea strengthened the powers of its cabinet, continued to decentralize the decision-making process, and expanded autonomy in business management.

North Korea has simultaneously launched supplementary measures to cope with inflation and other side effects of economic reform that have occurred due to a supply shortage and expanded market economy measures. For example, from April 2004, North Korea installed and operated state-run "food stores" and "wholesale departments" at general markets to stabilize the price of rice and of other daily necessities respectively.

As a result of economic reform measures, the values of residents as well as the social structure have undergone significant changes. Merchantization of residents, commercialization of manufactured goods, marketization of institutions and systems, and other phenomena of market socialization have continuously accelerated. An unequal social structure has been brought about as commercial activities become more universal, and both individualism and values prioritizing materials have proliferated as more "methods of pursuing profit" have taken root throughout the society.

As the rationing system was reduced in scope and other collective social security functions were poorly operated, insecurity and acts of social deviation increased. As a result, the North Korean authorities have consistently carried out collective ideological education such as the campaign to "follow the examples of national heroes." At the same time, they amended the Criminal Law in April 2004 so as to reestablish the somewhat disrupted social order and have carried out measures to i) prevent the inflow of foreign ideologies and outflow of security-related information; and ii) strengthen internal controls. Such measures included suspending mobile phone services, refusing to receive aid under the Consolidated Appeal Process by the UN, and restricting the activities of NGOs working in North Korea.

In February 2014, the UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, or North Korea) released a 400-page report documenting a wide array of crimes against humanity. The report described these as more severe and widespread than any other in the contemporary world, and said they have arisen from “policies established at the highest level of State.”

The landmark 2014 report of the UN Commission of Inquiry on North Korea’s human rights noted the deplorable use of food by the North Korean government as a means of controlling its population. According to the Commission, North Korea’s leaders are guilty of “knowingly causing prolonged starvation” and are responsible for the death by starvation of hundreds of thousands of its own people.

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Page last modified: 03-05-2019 18:39:57 ZULU