Humanitarian groups warn that North Korea is facing another food crisis similar to that of a decade ago. That famine may have killed millions. Advocates are urging the international community to make immediate donations, but there are fears that the Kim Jong-il regime will not distribute aid to those who really need it.
Thousands have fled North Korea because of hunger and impoverishment in recent years
The official North Korean media are admitting that the nation faces a food shortage, but denying that it is sliding back into famine. Good Friends, a Buddhist-affiliated human rights advocacy group based in South Korean capital Seoul, disagrees.
Representative Erica Kang says the signs of another famine are clear, and warns that there could be grave consequences, just as for the food crisis of the 1990s: “What is for certain and what we can forecast is that if there is no food assistance, North Korea is facing a number or serious ramifications. People are on the verge of dying at the moment.”
Kang says that because of severe flooding and North Korea’s missile and nuclear test in 2006, which scared away donors, the nation’s food supplies have run out. She explains that farmers wound up eating all of their seeds earlier this year and now have nothing to harvest.
3 million dead a decade ago
Good Friends estimates that three million people died of starvation a decade ago. One 28-year-old North Korean defector, who asked to be called Nan Hee, said she couldn’t forget the day-to-day horror she had experienced during that time.
“During the famine in the 1990s, so many people died in my village,” she explained. “Every morning, we would wake up and hear about who did not survive over the night. Especially children, mothers could not feed their babies, many were born with deformities or died shortly after birth.”
Nan Hee was lucky -- she escaped her impoverished homeland. But for many of those who stayed behind, help from the government never came, despite massive hand-outs from the World Food Program and other nations.
For this reason, some experts think that donors should hold off on providing food aid; for example, Do Hee-yoon from the Seoul-based Citizens' Coalition for Human Rights of Abductees and North Korean Refugees.
“Its like pouring water into a broken jar,” Do says. “Famine in North Korea is a man-made disaster. Providing food only helps prop up the regime in Pyongyang. The starving civilians who actually need the food do not receive it.”
Instead, Do claims, aid goes straight to the military or families of the elite. South Korea’s new president Lee Myung Bak wants North Korea to ask for help formally -- something that it never had to do during previous administrations in Seoul.
But as the situation deteriorates, Seoul is considering providing its neighbor with 50,000 metric tons of corn to help offset the food shortage. Some advocates, such as Erica Kang of Good Friends, say this assistance is too little and too late.
Pyongyang has yet to respond to Seoul’s offer to provide assistance.