North Korea Warns Its Citizens of Upcoming Famine Crisis

World | April 9, 2021, Friday // 16:30|  views

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has told citizens to prepare for hard times ahead, following warnings from rights groups that the country faces dire food shortages and economic instability.

Speaking at a party conference, Mr Kim appeared to compare the situation to the devastating 1990s famine, estimated to have killed hundreds of thousands.

North Korea has shut its borders due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Trade with China, its economic lifeline, has come to a standstill.

This is on top of existing international economic sanctions over Pyongyang's nuclear programme.

In a rare admission of looming hardship, the authoritarian leader of the single-party state on Thursday called on officials to "wage another, more difficult 'Arduous March' in order to relieve our people of the difficulty, even a little".

 The Arduous March is a term used by North Korea officials to refer to the country's struggle during the 1990s famine, when the fall of the Soviet Union left North Korea without crucial aid. The total number of North Koreans who starved to death is not known, but estimates range up to 3 million.

There have been warnings for months that the people of North Korea are struggling.

Reports of hardship appear to be coming especially from towns near the Chinese border, where smuggling would have been a huge earner for many.

The price of corn, the staple diet for most of rural North Korea, has reportedly fluctuated enormously and at times a kilogram of corn has cost more than a month's wages.
The UN Special Rapporteur on North Korean Human Rights, Tomás Ojea Quintana, warned last month in a report of a "serious food crisis" already leading to malnourishment and starvation.

"Deaths by starvation have been reported, as has an increase in the number of children and elderly people who have resorted to begging as families are unable to support them."

It is unclear whether any aid at all is currently coming into the country. North Korea has rejected offers of external aid and almost all diplomats and aid workers, including staff of the UN's World Food Programme (WFP), have left.

 Meanwhile North Korea's border closures means trade with China dropped by 80% last year from levels that had already fallen significantly in 2018 when the UN expanded sanctions over North Korea's nuclear programme.

Reports suggest North Korea restricted imports of staple foods from China last August and then cut almost all trade, including food and medicines, in October./bbc

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Tags: North Korea, Kim Jong-un, famine, Arduous March


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