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North Korea rations hit record low: UN

Timothy Jones
May 3, 2019

The North Korean regime has cut rations of food to 300 grams a day after the worst harvest in 10 years, the UN says. And a UN team found that 10.1 million people lacked enough food to take them through to the next one.

Farmland hit by drought in North Korea
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

North Korea is experiencing one of its most severe food crises in years following the worst harvests in decades, caused by dry spells, heat waves and flooding, the UN said on Friday.

The World Food Programme (WFP) said the North Korean government had reduced rations to their lowest level ever for this time of year. People were receiving just 300 grams (less than 11 ounces) per day, down from 360 grams per day at the same time last year.

WFP spokesman Herve Verhoosel told a press conference in Geneva that "10.1 million people [in North Korea] suffer from severe food insecurity, meaning they do not have enough food till the next harvest."

The information was gathered by UN teams invited by North Korea to carry out a new food security assessment from March 29 to April 12.

Read more: Building bridges: How sport is bringing North and South Korea closer together

Other findings of the assessment

  • Agricultural production in North Korea was an estimated 4.9 million metric tons, the lowest since the 2008-2009 season.
  • Lack of food diversity is "of serious concern," with rice, maize or potatoes forming the staple diet.
  • Protein is in short supply, with some families saying they ate eggs or protein only a few times a year.
  • The 2019 early season crops of wheat and barley are also endangered.

Report recommendations:

Among other things, the assessment recommends

  • the distribution of a wider variety of foodstuffs, including cereals and pulses, from at least June to November 2019
  • the provision of mobile water pumps
  • the import of agricultural chemicals for the control of pests and diseases
  • the provision of high-quality vegetable seeds
  • the improvement of health protection for livestock

A problematic food region

North Korea suffered a major famine in the mid-1990s. Reliable figures do not exist, but between 250,000 and 3 million people are thought to have died. The impoverished rural regions in the communist country are particularly at risk of food insecurity.

Read more: 2019: Will there be a breakthrough on the Korean Peninsula?

What caused the current crisis? The WFP says repeated climate shocks had limited production capacity, with drought, a severe heat wave and floods in some important food-producing regions. It also mentions a lack of farming essentials such as fertilizers and fuel as drivers of food insecurity in North Korea.

How was the study carried out? The WFP said the UN mission teams had been permitted to visit cooperative farms, rural and urban households, nurseries and food distribution centers.
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