North Korea’s food situation looks perilous, experts say

By Josh Smith

SEOUL, Oct. 8 (Reuters) – North Korea’s food situation remains perilous according to analysts and a UN expert who expressed doubts this week about its harvest, and there are signs it is receiving large shipments of humanitarian aid from China.

North Korea has long suffered from food insecurity, with observers saying the government’s mismanagement of the economy is being exacerbated by international sanctions, natural disasters and now the COVID-19 pandemic, which has triggered widespread outbreaks there. unprecedented border closures.

The country typically depends on imports and help from China to make up for poor harvests, but its strict self-imposed border closures aimed at preventing a coronavirus outbreak have slowed trade and questioned its ability to overcome shortages food.

International sanctions imposed on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program create additional hurdles and should be relaxed to avoid a humanitarian crisis, a UN rights investigator said in a report seen by Reuters this week. https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/exclusive-un-expert-calls-nkorea-sanctions-be-eased-starvation-risk-looms-2021-10-07

Despite its economic difficulties, North Korea continued to develop its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile arsenals, including testing a flurry of new short-range missiles https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/ north-korea-says -it-test-fired-new-hypersonic-missile-kcna-2021-09-28 in recent weeks, and building a major addition to its main nuclear reactor facility https: // www. 38north.org/2021/10/construction -continuing-activity-at-the-yongbyons-uranium-enrichment-plant, which analysts say could aim to enrich more quality uranium military.

Much depends on this year’s harvest after leader Kim Jong Un said the food situation was “tense”. https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/nkoreas-kim-says-food-situation-tense-due-pandemic-typhoons-2021-06-15

In July, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations said the 2021 growing season looked to be off to a good start, but a new report released this week by a U.S. think tank said data collected by satellite indicate a yield lower than an average or good harvest.

“Although not yet a crisis of famine proportions, the negative trend, combined with external factors such as the poor yields of the previous year and the flood damage to cropland in the northeast and crop transportation infrastructure, exacerbate food insecurity in the country, ”the Center for Strategic and International Studies said in a report released Monday.

For the first time in months this week, there were signs that North Korea was accepting international aid, with UN agencies claiming some cargo had entered the country https://www.reuters.com/ world / asia-pacific / who-is-sending -covid-19-aid-north-korea-2021-10-07 and were now quarantined in North Korean ports.

United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) health and nutrition supplies and medical supplies to support the World Health Organization’s anti-pandemic work were part of the aid that had reached South Korea. North.

Aid shipments have been on hold for a long time and likely do not signal a wider opening of borders as North Korea has been letting other goods in for months, said Chad O’Carroll, CEO of Korea Risk Group, based in Seoul. who is watching North Korea.

“North Korea has allowed other goods to enter the country since May, including large volumes of what appears to be humanitarian aid from China,” he said.

China’s exports to North Korea increased for the third consecutive month https://www.reuters.com/world/china/chinas-august-exports-north-korea-up-third-month-2021-09 -18 in August, to reach $ 22.5 million. It was a fraction of the $ 219 million in exports in August 2019, before pandemic lockdowns.

O’Carroll said he believed North Korea would still be able to avoid severe food shortages with aid and imports from China.

“However, the quality, range and nutritional value of the food products offered will be low,” he added. (Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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