UN condemns N. Korea abuses but offers aid

By John J. Metzler,Special to The China Post

UNITED NATIONS — In the midst of severe food shortages affecting perhaps a quarter of the population, to the backdrop of horrific human rights abuses, and in the shadows of an expanding and costly nuclear weapons program, the United Nations has responded to this dangerous situation inside North Korea with both carrots and sticks. First, the carrots. U.N. humanitarian agencies have warned that approximately five million North Koreans face food shortages, “despite a relatively good harvest.” An assessment by the Rome-based World Food Programme found that the country confronts a 542,000 ton food deficit. The relief agency recommends sending 305,000 tons of food aid to the most vulnerable population.

“The cereal rations provided by the Government through its public distribution system would likely contribute about half of the daily energy requirements,” advised Joyce Luma, WFP chief of food security analysis. She added, “A small shock in the future could trigger a severe negative impact and will be difficult to contain if these chronic deficits are not effectively managed.”

WFP adds that in recent years cereal production in North Korea has “stagnated at around 4.5 million tons annually, compared to the 5.3 million tons” needed.

Food shortages are nothing new in communist North Korea; they are usually blamed on the weather or natural calamity. Yet the problem remains the rigidly applied socialist system where farm collectives do not produce; similar to Mainland China in the 1950s and 1960s. China has changed.

In fact the epic famine of the 1990s still lurks in recent memory. As specialist Jasper Becker recounts in his riveting account Rogue Regime; Kim Jong-il and the Looming Threat of North Korea, “The World Food Program (WFP) began by appealing for 21,000 tons of food for 500,000 people in 1995, and three years later it was feeding 8 million people, nearly half the population.” In the 1990s between 2 and 3 million people died.

Fast forward to 2010. The WFP states soberly,” North Korea’s economy has been growing at a sluggish pace of under one percent annually and for many years now has suffered significant food deficits,” warns an economist with the Food and Agriculture Organization, who adds “the performance of the important agriculture, forestry and fisheries sector has been erratic with negative annual growth rates in the last years.”