The North Korea Story No One is Talking About

With all eyes on palace intrigue in Pyongyang, very few people seem to be paying attention to a mounting humanitarian emergency outside the capitol city.  Humanitarian groups like Mercy Corps, Samaritans Purse, and a handful of others that have been on the ground in North Korea are warning that food supplies in North Korea will run out within months. A World Food Program appeal is only funded less than one third of what it says is required to fully respond to the emergency. Unless something changes, we can see mass starvation in North Korea within months.

“We are concerned. Time is of the essence,” said Ken Isaacs of Samaritan’s Purse, a US-based NGO that helped to distribute the last American food aid in North Korea, almost three years ago.

David Austin of Mercy Corps, who visited flood-hit regions in September, warned: “The longer you delay this decision, the more suffering there’s going to be.” He said it would take six weeks to three months to set up new deliveries, and warned that based on current conditions, people’s food rations would be cut “quite substantially” by April.

“As that goes on and on, you’ll see the effects of stunting in people’s growth and their development. You’ll see children dying,” he said.


Kim Hartzner of the Danish NGO Mission East said…”Everyone is warning it’s going to get worse and worse, but nothing happens. I fear it’s going to be the same situation as in the African Horn: in four or five months you will see quite a lot of people dying and people will say, ‘Why didn’t we do something four or five months ago?'”

What is particularly troubling is that the United States had been on the verge of announcing a new humanitarian aid package for North Korea this week…then Kim Jong Il died. The aid package was tied closely to assurances from Pyongyang that it would enter into a nuclear negotiations. (A sign of good faith was to be suspending uranium enrichment, an announcement that was expected to happen today.)  Alas, with the  death of Kim Jong Il  the USA doesn’t know how/if to proceed with the deal.

At some point, the question of delivering emergency food aid needs to be decoupled from the nuclear diplomacy.  Starving children in the countryside are not responsible for DPRK’s nuclear ambition. We should not use this aid package as a wedge to drive nuclear policy. We should stop kids from staving.