Grieving for Starved North Koreans Not Kim Jong-il

Between 1995-1998 North Koreans suffered from one of the worst famines the country has ever endured. Several credible sources reported a range of 900,00 to more than 2 million people to have perished from starvation. Much of the problem was created by a lack of funding to stabilize agriculture after the devastating floods in 1995. The floods not only decimated crops and harvests, but also destroyed emergency grain reserves, which were  stored underground.

The government did little to help it’s people, and under Kim Jong-il’s rule, initiated an effort to hide any signs that people were starving. According to The New Yorker, “the regime cleared homeless and malnourished citizens from Pyongyang’s streets, and kept giving party cadres there decent rations even as the countryside’s public food-distribution system collapsed, for the most part invisibly to the outside world.”

Soon, NGO’s began to get wind of the famine and made a concerted effort to provide food to those most affected in the countryside, improving the situation by 1998. Still, malnutrition rates continued to rise as the government misused aid and improperly distributed food and supplies.

In an article published by The NY Times in October 2011, the United Nations’ humanitarian chief, Valerie Amos was quoted saying: “Six million North Koreans urgently need food aid, but the outside world is not giving enough. We need to remember the most vulnerable people in North Korea are victims of a situation over which they have no control. They are suffering from no fault of their own.” Children are of those suffering the most, with child malnutrition rates being compared to that of the Ethiopia famine in the 1980s. According to the The Telegraph, “an estimated one-third of all children in North Korea are stunted by malnutrition caused by ongoing food shortages.”

Many countries, such as France, Britain, Japan and the U.S. have offered North Korea famine relief, but in almost every instance Kim Jong-il refused to cooperate, leaving his people poor and hungry. The ill actions of the dictator have evoked feelings of hatred towards North Koreans in general, while the reality is that most North Koreans have no other choice but to live under the oppressive rule of a nation they were merely born into.

As North Korea continues to put on a spectacle of morning services in honor of the late Kim Jong-il, the world awaits the actions of his successor. Only time will tell if the new young leader will choose to follow in the footsteps of his father by continuing to build upon North Korea’s powerful military while turning his back on the basic needs of the people. If he does choose this path, the future of this unstable and impoverished country will remain bleak.


Photo by: Mike Gadd/Flickr

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