Could North Korea See Another 'Arduous March'?

Nation is mired in its worst food shortage since its mid-'90s famine
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 22, 2023 7:36 AM CST
Could North Korea See Another 'Arduous March'?
In this May 25, 2021, file photo, farmers plant rice at the Namsa Co-op Farm in the Rangnang district in Pyongyang, North Korea.   (AP Photo/Jon Chol Jin, File)

As North Korea continues to launch ICBMs and lob threats, it's also contending with a familiar problem: a food shortage, though this time experts say it's particularly bad. Per Fox News, South Korea's Unification Ministry says the food situation "seems to have deteriorated" in its northern neighbor, with an observed increase in starvation deaths in some provinces. Meanwhile, an unconfirmed local newspaper report notes that soldiers are seeing smaller rations for the first time in more than 20 years. This all tracks with a report last month from 38 North, which states that food availability "has likely fallen below the bare minimum with regard to human needs," and that it's the worst it's been there since the North's famine in the mid-1990s.

That food crisis, known as the "Arduous March," killed hundreds of thousands of people, by conservative estimates, and possibly millions. The food shortage currently afflicting the secretive nation has been exacerbated by everything from international sanctions for its nuclear program and its COVID-19 lockdowns to weather-related natural disasters like droughts and floods. Underlying all that has been "decades of economic mismanagement," per 38 North, which notes the country has long tried to remedy its food issues with an "economically irrational policy of self-sufficiency."

According to an estimate last year by the UN's World Food Program, that's all led to about 40% of the population being deemed undernourished and in need of humanitarian aid, reports the Guardian. It doesn't help that the state newspaper Rodong Sinmun recently took to rebuffing foreign aid, likening such assistance to "poisoned candy" that was nothing more than a "trap to plunder and subjugate" countries who accepted it. State media reports that top officials are set to meet later this month to hash out a "fundamental change" to the nation's agriculture policy, per the BBC. (Read more North Korea stories.)

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