Daniel Hurst writing for the Guardian, May 14, 2019, reports that fears are growing for young children and other vulnerable groups as a drought in the DPRK threatens to worsen food shortages.
We wrote last month that the DPRK already recognised the “dangerousness” of the current food supply situation in the country.
State-run media is now reporting that rainfall was at record lows for the first five months of the year while the Red Cross said the drought that began in early spring was adding to the woes of last year when food production fell to the lowest level in a decade.
The Guardian reminds us that four in 10 people in North Korea are estimated to be in urgent need of food assistance.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has added its voice to warn of growing humanitarian issues: “We are particularly concerned about the impact that this early drought will have on children and adults who are already struggling to survive,” said Mohamed Babiker, who heads the North Korea office of the IIFRC.
“Even before this drought, one in five children under five years old was stunted because of poor nutrition. We are concerned that these children will not be able to cope with further stress on their bodies.”
The IFRC also fears for pregnant and breastfeeding women, older people and those with chronic illness as the drought could exacerbate hunger, malnutrition and health problems.
It seems clear that the current drought problems in the DPRK are related to climate change says Daniel Wallinder, a disaster risk management delegate for the
IFRC, who is quoted in the Guardian article.
“What we see now is lack of snow during the winter leaving crops exposed to freezing temperatures as well as prolonged dry spells due to rainfall that is lower and less predictable,” Wallinder said in a statement.
“For people who are living on the margins, these changes can be devastating.”
The Guardian article also quotes David Beasley, the executive director of the United Nations World Food Programme (UN/WFP), who met with South Korean ministers in Seoul on May 13, and said he held “very serious concerns” about food security north of the border.
After the meeting South Korea said it would move quickly on plans to provide $8 million worth of medical and nutritional aid for North Korean children through UN agencies while it also considers sending broader food aid to the country.
Lee Sang-min, spokesman for Seoul’s Unification Ministry (MoU), said the government will discuss its plans with the World Food Program (WFP) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), through which the aid would be provided, so it reaches North Korean children and pregnant women quickly. South Korea is also trying to build public and political support for providing wider food aid to North Korea, either directly or through the WFP.
Building that concensus at home and abroard has just become a little more difficult. On May 4 the DPRK tested a new short-range balistic missile and followed this on May 9 with a defensive ‘missile launch drill’ that involved two other short-range missiles tests and the practise firing from multiple-missile launchers.
Unnoticed in the flurry of commentary that followed these events, was the news that in the same week the U.S. successfully tested another Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). This was the second Minuteman III test during May, the first taking place on May 1. However both launches had been planned and announced by the U.S. many months earlier.
The North Korean short-range missile tests has raised concerns over prospects of reaching a comprehensive deal on denuclearisation and prompted Taro Kono, Japan’s foreign minister, to say that it would be “premature” to send food aid as North Korea’s leadership was prioritising nuclear weapon and missile development over people’s welfare.
David Beasley of the WFP might hope to focus minds on the genuine humanitarian needs of the DPRK. In an interview with the Guardian in April, just before North Korea’s latest set of missile tests, he said: “We make the case: don’t let innocent children suffer because of politics.”
In that context it should be remembered that the UN Security Council has repeatedly reaffirmed that its sanctions provisions are not intended to have adverse humanitarian consequences for the civilian population of the DPRK, and that it will exempt from sanctions those activities that would facilitate the work of international and non-governmental organisations engaged in assistance and relief activities for civilian benefit.
For more on the drought and the DPRK’s experience of famine, see the May 16, 2019 BBC story “North Korea suffers worst drought in decades“.