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North Korea asks its citizens to prepare for famine worse than the 1990s – Radio Free Asia

Authorities in North Korea are asking people to prepare for dire economic troubles like the 1994-1998 famine that killed millions of people, RFA is known, but experts say the situation is dire. dire, but not too serious.

The famine of 1990 was the result of poor economic management and the sudden collapse of North Korea’s patron, the Soviet Union. According to some estimates, about 10% of the North Korean population lost their lives, while hundreds of thousands of people fled to China.

Sources in the country’s northwestern province of North Hamgyong told RFA that authorities warned residents during special discussion sessions held by neighborhood guards to prepare for the worse situation. “Hard March,” North Korea’s official description of famine a quarter of a century ago.

The current economic situation in North Korea is dire by most accounts. When the COVID-19 pandemic started in January 2020, Beijing and Pyongyang closed all of the 880-mile Sino-Korean border and suspended all trade.

North Korea has already been pinched by US and UN nuclear sanctions, but the border closure has killed a major part of North Korean trade: the buying and selling of Chinese imports. Economic activity in the entire town has ceased to function, leaving residents no way to support themselves.

The UN Special Rapporteur on North Korea’s Human Rights Tomás Ojea Quintana warned in a report last month that closing the border and restricting the movement of its people could lead to a “crisis. serious food ”.

“Hunger deaths have been reported, along with an increase in the number of children and the elderly begging because families were unable to support them,” the report said.

Sources told RFA that attendees of this week’s special sessions expect that the government will ask them to stay on course and be patient as the congress plans go into effect.

“Today, each district holds a discussion session for women in each neighborhood unit to follow up on the 8th Party Congress… but all were shocked when the speaker said, ‘economic difficulties. Ours is just getting started, ‘a resident of North Hamgyong told South Korea’s RFA. Service April 5.

“Most of the participants are women who are responsible for their family’s lives. The speaker was an official with the Propaganda and Agitation Department, who emphasized that our current economic difficulties are very pale compared to what’s ahead. How will these women feel? “said the source, who requested anonymity to speak freely.

At the ruling Korean Workers’ Party’s Eighth Congress held in January 2020, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pushed for the creation of the country. Juche The ideology of self-reliance exists as a solution to economic troubles – suggesting that there are no plans to open the border with China anytime soon.

The source said a wave of anxiety spread among all attendees when the speaker said that even the hard March of March was “nothing” compared to what’s ahead of the country.

“Attendees began to panic, wondering how many would starve if March was a hardship, where millions died of starvation, was nothing,” the source said.

“The authorities tried to push us to propagate that people’s lives would be ‘in full bloom’, referring to the full development of our socialist style, but the people are blame the authorities, said the government only sources said to have prepared us for extreme hunger.

The inhabitants of the famine of the 1990s were the most frightened of this news.

“They said we could do nothing but starve if there was another hard March and vowed to find a way to stop it.”

Another source, also from North Hamgyong, confirmed the special discussion session with RFA on April 6.

“The speaker did not say a word about improving people’s lives as the government promised. Once again, they said we need austerity and implement the decision of the 8th Party Congress. This makes residents angry “, the second source asked to remain anonymous for security reasons.

“They told us during the session to unconditionally memorize and follow the instructions given in the conference, and discuss them in the form of questions and answers. But as the session continued, the attendees were unable to hide their disappointment and outrage, ”said the second source.

Attendees were furious that they were asked to be patient and agree to make sacrifices without specific details on how this would help them get through the difficult situation, according to the second source.

“So now everyone is saying that a second Hard March is about to happen. On the surface, the authorities are saying everything will be fine once the five-year economic development plan proposed in the party congress is completed, ”said the second source.

“But since they make no secret of the fact that the current economic crisis could lead to a more difficult situation than the arduous March of the 1990s, public anxiety is increasing.”

International observers are skeptical that the current situation in North Korea is no different from the famine of the 1990s.

“This is not the 1996-97 famine. Food supplies are barely adequate, but not what North Korea hopes for. And I don’t see North Korea in the midst of a verifiable COVID health crisis, ”Mark P. Barry, deputy editor-in-chief of the quarterly International Journal of World Peace, told RFA.

“Although things are very difficult economically and bad for food security, the biggest danger to North Korea is its growing loss of sovereignty due to its dependence on one country – China. This is Kim Jong Un’s tenth year opportunity to not only consolidate internal power but also reduce dangerously growing dependence on China, ”said Barry.

Barry said that Kim was hoping to achieve economic independence from China by reaching an agreement with the United States

“Because of [former U.S. President ]Trump left office without a deal that Kim could accept and [U.S. President] Mr. Biden showed little promise to change long-standing US policy towards the DPRK regarding denuclearization, Kim was even willing to put his country through the ‘hard March’ The second could be a more preferred alternative to coping with China’s economic and political pressures, “says Barry.

Troy Stangarone of the Korea Economic Institute (KEI) based in Washington said the situation was really bad in North Korea, but added that it is unclear if it can be compared to the 1990s.

“In a month or two ago, trade between North Korea and China, their main trading partner, and even Russia, fell to zero or to a level that was essentially non-existent. We have seen signs that commodity prices are starting to rise as food and other important commodities become more scarce, ”says Stangarone.

“As long as North Korea continues to maintain these tight border controls, it is very difficult to see the situation improve and it is very likely to continue to worsen instead,” he said.

Mr Stangarone said Pyongyang would have difficulty addressing the challenges ahead and recommended that the government loosen its border controls and be more willing to accept international aid.

March is especially cruel for North Korean children. At the end of the famine in 1998, a nutrition survey conducted by UNICEF and the World Food Program found that among the children of 3,600 Korean households, 62.3% were stunted and 60.6 % are considered to be moderate or heavy.

RFA reported in November 2020 that a national survey of literacy rates found that many school-age people in North Korea were illiterate during the famine and were unable to attend school at that time. This leads to less economic opportunity later in their life.

Reporting by Jieun Kim and Albert Hong to RFA Korea Service. Translation by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.



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