Reports of starvation in North Korea as winter looms

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There is a growing concern among South Koreans that their vulnerable counterparts in the North will starve due to food shortage, as winter approaches.

Warnings are stark and coming from inside and outside of North Korea. Defectors based in the South have said that their families in the North are going hungry.

North Korea has closed its border since January last year to prevent the spread of Covid-19 from China. Even getting messages out of the country to family and friends who have defected to South Korea comes at a huge risk.

Anyone caught with an unauthorised mobile phone could be thrown into a labour camp. And yet some still try to send letters or voice mail via text to their loved ones and to publications in Seoul.

Through these sources, some of which have to remain anonymous, we have tried to build a picture of what is going on.

“Problems such as more orphan children on the streets and death by starvation are continuously being reported,” said Lee Sang Yong, editor in chief of the Daily NK, which has sources in North Korea.

“The lower classes in North Korea are suffering more and more,” as food shortages are worse than expected, Mr. Lee said.

North Korea has closed its border since January last year to prevent the spread of Covid-19 from China. Even getting messages out of the country to family and friends who have defected to South Korea comes at a huge risk.

Anyone caught with an unauthorised mobile phone could be thrown into a labour camp. And yet some still try to send letters or voice mail via text to their loved ones and to publications in Seoul.

Through these sources, some of which have to remain anonymous, we have tried to build a picture of what is going on.

North Korea has always struggled with food shortages, but the pandemic has made a bad situation worse. Leader Kim Jong-un has compared the current situation to the country’s worst disaster in the 1990’s, known as the “Arduous March”, where hundreds of thousands of people died in a famine.

The situation is not thought to be that bad – yet. There are some hopeful signs. North Korea appears to be preparing to re-open the border with China, but it’s unclear how much trade and aid will be needed to repair the economic damage already wrought on the impoverished country.

This year’s harvest is crucial. Last year’s crops were partly destroyed by a series of typhoons. The United Nations estimates that the country is short of at least two to three months’ supply of food.

To ensure this year is as successful as possible, tens of thousands of people have been sent into the fields to help gather rice and corn, including the army.

Kim Jong-un has also reportedly ordered that every grain of rice in the country is to be secured and that everyone who eats should go and help with the harvest.

“A plan has been devised to minimise losses in the harvesting process,” said Mr. Lee, from the Daily NK.

“It emphasises that strict punishment will be imposed if theft or cheating is reported. It’s creating an atmosphere of fear.”

Last week, South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) told a closed-door parliamentary hearing that Mr. Kim said he felt he was “walking on thin ice due to the economic situation”, according to lawmakers at the briefing.

The NIS also reportedly said the lack of medicine and essential supplies has accelerated the spread of infectious diseases such as typhoid fever.

This growing concern has been amplified by state media, which has highlighted measures being taken to prevent crop damage and released propaganda posters emphasising efforts to work on food production. (Source: BBC)

 

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