While world leaders prod the portly Kim Jong Il to give up uranium enrichment, it is the North Koreans who are being strangled by sanctions and food shortages that threaten to get much worse in the near future.
Pyongyang’s July nuclear tests have attracted a flurry of frantic attention to North Korea, but the starving millions of the nation are being largely ignored while the options are discussed. South Korea, which supplies most of the food aid delivered to North Korea, has halted shipments in response to the test. At the same time, flooding destroyed perhaps 100,000 tons worth of crops in North Korea, which already can only meet about 85% of its food demand domestically. It is reported that China has cut its own aid to North Korea by as much as a third. And while the World Food Programme requested $102 million in aid for North Korea last year, it has so far only received 10% of that total, and this before many of its donor countries, notably the US, turned in earnest against the North Korean leader.
Meanwhile, amid discussions of UN sanctions against the Kim Jong Il regime, Sophie Richardson of Human Rights watch urges, “We cannot allow ourselves to be complicit in the potential starvation of millions of innocent people.”
Hazel Smith, a professor of international relations at Warwick University, having previously visited North Korea with the World Food Program and Unicef, tells the BBC that the situation is about to get even more drastic. Even though current food levels are barely enough to sustain the population – with 40% of children under six severely malnourished along with 30% of young mothers, according to a 2004 survey – it can still get worse. “We are talking about a matter of months before there is immediate starvation,” she said. Aid agencies concur, evoking the disaster of the 1990s North Korean food crisis that killed an estimated 2 million people.