Competitive Exams: Current Affairs 2012: North Korea Food Crisis

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that there is an ‘uncovered deficit’ of over half a million tons of food. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) considers that a quarter of women in the age group of 15 to 49 are malnourished and nearly 90, 000 children in danger of slipping into severe malnutrition.

The first crisis

Why is North Korea so chronically short of food? Part of the reason is the topography and climate. Most of the country is mountainous and the crop growing seasons are short. But more important is the government's practice of ‘self-reliance’ in food supply in the world's last total command structure economy. All markets were banned in North Korea for many years in efforts to create a society hermetically sealed off from the outside world. The first major crisis hit the country with the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the loss of crucial economic support including oil supplies at ‘friendship prices’ from the Eastern Bloc. The public distribution system that reached food and essential supplies to the majority of the population suffered a setback from which it never fully recovered.

It was during the famine that illegal food markets sprang up in the country as a desperate coping mechanism. The government was compelled to bring in reforms that recognised these markets in 2002. This policy was however reversed from time to time. In 2007 we were witness to one such bizarre attempt when women under 40 were banned from trading in general markets.

It was also in 2002 that the government announced that it would resume plutonium production and ejected International Atomic Energy

Agency (IAEA) inspectors for the first time. Following North Korean announcements in December 2002, Japan introduced trade embargoes and the US imposed financial sanctions. The complexities multiplied manifold with the nuclear tests done by North Korea in 2006 and 2009 and the UN sanctions that followed. An aborted satellite launch also preceded the 2009 nuclear test by a month.

Courtesy: The Hindu