North Korea, Kim Jong Un and food: Winter is coming – fear of hunger is growing in an isolated country – BBC News

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Archive photograph of North Korean farmers in a field

The warnings are convincing and come from both North Korea and abroad.

Those who fled and settled in South Korea tell us that their families in North Korea are getting hungrier.

Before the winter, there are concerns that the most endangered part of the population will starve.

“Problems such as more orphans on the streets and starvation are constantly being reported,” said Li Sang Jong, editor-in-chief of the Daily NK, a newspaper that has sources in North Korea.

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

Getting information from North Korea is becoming increasingly difficult.

The border has been closed since January last year to prevent the spread of Kovid-19 from China.

Even sending messages from the country to family and friends who have fled to South Korea carries a huge risk.

Anyone caught with an unauthorized cell phone could end up in a labor camp.

And yet, some are still trying to send letters or voicemail via phone messages to loved ones or newspaper outlets in Seoul.

Through these sources, some of which must remain anonymous, we have tried to get a picture of what is happening.

“Every grain of rice”

North Korea has always had problems with food shortages, but the pandemic has further aggravated the already bad situation.

Leader Kim Jong Un compared the current situation to the worst catastrophe in the country in the 1990s, known as the “Hard March”, when hundreds of thousands of people died of starvation.

It is believed that the situation is not so bad – at least not yet.

There are some positive indications.

North Korea appears to be preparing to reopen its border with China, but it is unclear how much trade and aid will be needed to repair the economic damage in the impoverished country.

This year’s harvest is crucial.

He partially destroyed last year’s crops through typhoons.

The United Nations estimates that the country lacks food for at least two to three months.

To make this year as successful as possible, tens of thousands of people have been sent to the fields to help harvest rice and corn, including the military.

Kim Jong Un reportedly also ordered that every grain of rice in the country be kept and that everyone who eats must help with the harvest.

“The plan is designed to minimize losses in the harvest process,” says Lee from the Daily NK.

“It was emphasized that severe penalties will be applied if theft or cheating is reported. An atmosphere of fear is being created. “

Kim Jong-un
BBC
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un seems ready to acknowledge the seriousness of the situation

Last week, representatives of the South Korean National Intelligence Service (NIS) announced at the parliamentary committee behind closed doors that they had information that Kim told his associates that he was “walking on thin ice because of the economic situation”.

NIS allegedly also received information about the shortage of medicines and basic necessities, which accelerated the spread of infectious diseases such as typhoid fever.

This concern was further heightened by the state media, which highlighted measures taken to prevent damage to crops, and the publication of propaganda posters stating the importance of working on food production.


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Modern agriculture

North Korea faces two major problems with food supplies.

The first are her agricultural methods.

Pyongyang may have invested heavily in new military technology and missiles, but it lacks the modern mechanization necessary for a quick and successful harvest, according to experts.

Choi Yongho of the Korean Institute of Rural Economics told us that “insufficient supplies of agricultural equipment result in poor food production.”

We managed to see that for ourselves.

From a new reconnaissance position at the western end of South Korea, with luxurious Seoul skyscrapers in the background, my team and I had a good view across the Han River of North Korea.

It seems so close – and yet so far away.

South Korea lookout point
BBC
From the new reconnaissance position at the western end of South Korea, people have a good view of North Korea

I heard a girl comment as she looked through binoculars that they were “one people.”

“They’re the same as us,” she said as she ran back into her mother’s arms.

The villagers, dozens of them, were busy making bales of rice and carrying them on their backs to a rather dilapidated tractor.

A South Korean farmer in Paju, near the demilitarized zone that separates the two countries, said that it took him an hour to harvest all the rice from his fields with a machine.

If he did it manually, as is done in the North, he said that it would take him a week for one field.

SK harvest
BBC
A South Korean farmer harvests rice from his fields with the help of a machine

Extremely endangered

But with a lack of technology and farming equipment, North Korea also faces a much longer-term problem if it wants to provide enough food supplies.

It is on the list of American intelligence services among the 11 countries most endangered by the consequences of global warming, and the limited area it has for growing crops could be the hardest hit.

“The worst yields of rice and corn will most likely be along the west coast, which is the historic granary of North Korea,” said Catherine Deal, of the Strategic Risk Board.

She is one of the authors of a recent report on the “Convergence of the crisis in North Korea.”

That could explain why Pyongyang sent an ambassador to Great Britain to the 26th conference on climate change in Glasgow.

“North Korea is particularly vulnerable to natural disasters.

“Floods, monsoon rains and typhoons hit them every year, which directly affects yields and indirectly causes pest problems,” says Choi.

North Korea floods
BBC
North Korea is particularly prone to natural disasters

The report on the “Convergence of Crisis” suggests that all this will become much worse in the coming years, and rice production will be particularly affected by droughts and floods.

“It seems that stronger storms have already started to hit North Korea, there were prominent examples of this in 2020 and 2021 during the typhoon season.

As for the rise in sea levels, the coastal areas will be especially endangered “, says Dill.

Although Pyongyang rarely communicates with the outside world, it has often made exceptions when it comes to climate change and the environment.

North Korea has collaborated with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) on detailed reports from the country in 2003 and 2012, and is also a signatory to international agreements, including the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement.

One of the reasons for this activity on climate change could be their impact on food production.

A 2012 UNEP report pointed out that the average temperature in North Korea rose by 1.9 degrees Celsius between 1918 and 2000, which is among the fastest growth rates in Asia.

According to the report of the Green Climate Fund from 2019, the annual average temperatures in North Korea are expected to additionally increase by 2.8 to 4.7 degrees Celsius by the 2050s.

South Korea sees this as a chance to cooperate with the country on a problem that concerns both of them.

Seoul Environment Minister Han Jeung Ae told me last week that she hoped to meet her colleague in Glasgow to discuss inter-Korean cooperation on climate change, but that did not happen.

If the North Korean delegation listens to the speeches in Scotland, it will know that even when the fear of this pandemic subsides, and trade with China continues, even when the goods start arriving across the border, the country will face an worsening crisis.

And that crisis will significantly affect the already endangered population.

She will not be able to solve this crisis alone.


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