Health, nutrition and sanitation conditions have deteriorated for citizens of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) due to “a long period of abnormally dry weather,” according to the UN’s emergency aid coordination body OCHA. In a report released Wednesday, OCHA warned that a continued lack of rainfall will have a severe impact on the autumn harvest.
While UN agencies say the government has made major agricultural reforms over the past decade, and the famines of the past are unlikely now, mass hunger remains a threat that has been exacerbated by 18 months of low rainfall.
Here are some key figures:
• 600,000 – 2.5 million: Estimates of the number of people who died from famine in the 1990s
• 70: The percentage of the DPRK’s 24.6 million people whom the World Food Programme (WFP) deems “food insecure and highly vulnerable to shortages in food production”
• 27.9: The percentage of the population that is chronically malnourished and subject to stunted growth (2012 Nutrition Survey)
• 4: The percentage of the population that is acutely malnourished and subject to wasting (2012 Nutrition Survey)
• US $1,800: GDP per capita (CIA World Factbook)
• US $645,800,000: The estimated amount North Korea’s supreme leader Kim Jon-un spent on luxury goods in 2012 (UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the DPRK)
• 106: The percentage increase in diarrhoea incidence between January and June in 2015 compared with 2014 in the four provinces hardest hit by the drought (OCHA)
• 36: The percentage received by August of the US $117 million the UN says it needs to address humanitarian needs
• 100: The number of years the state-owned Korean Central News Agency says it has been since the country faced a drought of these proportions
Information coming in from the grassroots network of Life Funds for North Korean Refugees (LFNKR) indicates that drought and starvation are seriously affecting South Hwanghae Province. The drought is wreaking havoc on the harvest, and threatening widespread starvation.
The Hwanghae region is the rice bowl of North Korea. It is important in providing rice for the military and the capital Pyongyang, but the regional government fears that they will not be able to carry out that function after two consecutive years of natural disasters.
The regional government has issued no official statistics on deaths. According to a Ministry of Agriculture official, however, who was sent to assess the situation, a low estimate would be twelve to thirteen thousand people starved between February and May, just in the Hwanghae region alone. Observers expect to see the number of victims continue rising indefinitely.
In order to address the problem, the government has ordered emergency rations. Although the Chairman of the Supreme People’s Assembly, Kim Yong-nam, visited Indonesia, Kampuchea, Laos and other countries to request food aid, results are still in question.
North Korea requires immediate food assistance after heavy rains killed scores of people and submerged vast swaths of farmland, a U.N. office said Thursday.
Floods caused by two storm systems last month killed at least 119 people and left tens of thousands homeless, according to the North’s state media. A city official told AP that it was the worst disaster in Anju’s history.
The flooding, which occurred on the heels of a severe drought, renewed concerns about North Korea’s ability to feed its people.
In June, the U.N. said two-thirds of the country’s 24 million people are coping with chronic food shortages.
North Korean officials are asking for food, fuel, medicine, water and purification supplies, while farmers are requesting seeds and fertilizer for the next season, the U.N. said.