Excerpts of Guardian opinion by Marcus Noland, director of studies at the Peterson Institute for International Economics:
The most recent UNICEF survey suggests that 10% of the country’s two-year-olds are afflicted with severe stunting. Stunting of that degree at that age is irrecoverable and confers a lifetime of physical and mental challenges.
When the country finally admitted in 1995 that it was facing famine, the international community responded with considerable generosity, at one point feeding roughly a third of the population. But the North Korean government has never accepted the international norms in the provision of aid, impeding normal assessment, monitoring, and evaluation functions of the relief organizations.
Critically, with assistance ramping up, the government cut commercial grain imports – in essence using humanitarian aid as a form of balance of payments support, freeing up resources to finance the importation of advanced military weaponry.
The resources needed to close the hunger gap could be closed for something in the order of $8-19m — less than 0.2% of national income or one per cent of the military budget.
We evidently care more about hungry North Koreans than their government does. We should provide assistance. But we should be clear-eyed about the terms of that engagement and seek to provide aid in ways consistent with our values and our obligations under international law.