While North Korea’s leadership solicits the world’s nations for food aid, the despotic regime continues to deliberately starve its own people.
Reports of severe food shortages in North Korea constitute an almost annual occurrence. So, it probably came as little surprise when a myriad of world agencies stated earlier in the year that nearly 25% of North Korea’s 24 million citizens risked starvation.
To that end, the UN recommended in April 2011 that at least 475,000 tons of rice and cereal grains would be needed over the next six months to avert mass starvation. For their part, North Korean officials began frantically soliciting more nations for food than ever before, including African nations poorer than it.
However, unlike in years past, the world community mostly balked at the new food assistance appeal. The head of the UN Office of Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs said last week that it had collected only about 15 percent of the requested food.
Meanwhile, the US House of Representatives also voted last week to entirely bar any US food aid to North Korea. The denial of assistance brought cries of humanitarian neglect from some quarters, the most notable being from Jimmy Carter who called the US action a “human-rights violation.” Yet as Republican Representative Ed Royce said, “Let’s be clear, the aid we provide would prop up Kim Jong ll’s regime, a brutal and dangerous dictatorship.”
While that reason alone may have been enough to deny North Korea food aid, there was still an extended list of other justifications. Perhaps chief among these grounds was the growing belief that the North Korean government had actually manufactured its current food crisis.
According to a South Korean diplomat, a recent visit by a US assessment team to North Korea had concluded that “the North has no comprehensive food crisis.” Moreover, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization cited North Korea’s 2010 harvest to be among the best in two decades.
Of course, it isn’t unusual for North Korea to stockpile food and hoard it for government and military use. As one Intelligence official noted, “Since 1987, North Korea has been setting aside 12 percent of its rice output as emergency supplies in case of war and 10 percent for military consumption.”
Now, however, some US and South Korean officials have shared suspicions that Pyongyang is inflating the severity of its food situation for another purpose. Specifically, they believe the North Koreans are stockpiling food for the commemoration in April 2012 of the 100th birthday of Kim ll Sung, North Korea’s first leader and father to its current leader, Kim Jong ll.
The speculation is that the North Korean government wants to mark that celebration with a series of special and enhanced public food distributions. Moreover, they feel that show of state prosperity will validate Kim Jong ll’s recent vow that by 2012 North Korea would be “a strong and prosperous nation.”
Yet, even if North Korea’s food shortage is indeed real, there exists no accurate or verifiable means by which to determine if the food ever reaches its proper destination. As an example, in 2008 the US and North Korea negotiated a food assistance agreement. However, the North Koreans voided that deal when it came time to implement it because they didn’t want to allow for the pact’s verification requirements.
While the North Korean government may strive to deceive the world on who actually receives any donated food, the deception hasn’t worked very well on its own people. In a recent survey of 500 North Korean defectors, nearly 80 percent said they never received any foreign grain aid when they lived in the North. In fact, over 97 percent believed the food aid went to either the military; party leaders; or government agencies.
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