Hunger in North Korea
Let them eat maize husks
The politics of hunger in a brutal place
May 12th 2011 | SEOUL | from the print edition
IT IS the time of year when the previous harvest has been nearly eaten and the next one has just been planted. Time, in other words, to worry about North Korea’s perennially hungry masses.
North Korea had long grown dependent on food handouts from its estranged brother, South Korea, and from the United States. But the South’s current president, Lee Myung-bak, has taken a tougher line, tying assistance to less provocative behaviour by Kim Jong Il’s nuclear-tipped regime. So Mr Kim’s envoys have travelled further afield of late, reportedly doing the rounds of Europe.
The UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) is now preparing to distribute emergency aid to 3.5m North Koreans suffering from “severe malnutrition”. Programme officials are concerned about the possibility of a famine on the scale of the one in the mid-1990s, in which over 1m died. They blame a series of shocks, including the coldest winter in years, widespread flooding and an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease among livestock. Some 297,000 tonnes of cereal and 137,000 tonnes of fortified blended food must reach the most vulnerable.