Situation considered extreme . . .
Recent reports suggest North Korea is experiencing economic stagnation and a food shortage that has worsened over the summer months. Prices for essential foods like corn and rice have soared, making them increasingly inaccessible for even wealthy citizens. Estimates suggest that corn prices have nearly quadrupled since 2020, and the cost of rice has almost doubled over the same period. The extremity of the situation has led some to compare it to the Arduous March famine that North Korea experienced in the 1990s when almost three million citizens are estimated to have died of starvation.
Pandemic exacerbates North Korea’s isolation . . .
The COVID-19 pandemic and North Korea’s response have exacerbated the country’s economic and food security woes. In response to the pandemic, North Korean leaders closed the borders to the country’s main trading partners and even international aid. As a result, bilateral goods trade with China decreased 89 per cent between 2019 and 2021. The spread of the virus throughout the country has also taken a toll on the economy, while unseasonably heavy summer rains this year have decreased grain production. Famine is already impacting some parts of North Korea.
A silent famine . . .
International observers fear North Korea is undergoing a countrywide ‘silent’ famine. North Korea’s isolationist policies combined with long-standing international sanctions levied against it in response to continued nuclear missile tests make it unlikely that the international community will be able to help mitigate the current situation. It is possible that North Korea may try to deepen its economic ties with Russia. However, this alone is unlikely to solve the country’s economic woes. On Wednesday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared the battle against COVID had been won. But there is concern the statement was less about hard truths and more about the economic hardships that would result from having to close open-air markets, from which many citizens derive their livelihoods.