Things are not getting any easier for the people of North Korea. According to an Associated Press article yesterday, the Korean peninsula is facing the worst drought “since record-keeping began nearly 105 years ago.” The news comes as North Korea is facing a serious food shortage – as they have been for the past twenty years or so since the droughts created a widespread famine in the 1990s, and economic mismanagement from the 1980s to the present has only exacerbated the issues. The article notes how the U.N. has reported a bleak picture in the country already, with about two-thirds of North Koreans (16 million people) facing chronic food shortages.
The future looks equally grim: If the DPRK administration continues to govern as it has in the past (and thus far most indications say they will), then the North’s new young leader, Kim Jong-un, could be faced with a problem he can’t solve. Although North Korea desperately needs food sources, until now Kim has relied on a “juche” (self-reliance) ideology that harkens back to his grandfather’s rule. Roughly, the rhetoric states that a nation strengthens its sovereignty and security by relying only on its own people, and if only the North Korean people work harder, longer hours, all will be well.
Unfortunately, this naive “strategy” overlooks the glaring obstacles workers face. The mountainous countryside of North Korea is not an ideal location to practice agricultural self-reliance, as only 20 percent of its land is arable. Moreover, the North has traditionally relied on outdated farming and industrial methods, and, according to the U.N., farmers presently lack basic resources such as “fuel, tractors, quality seeds and fertilizer.” During the last major drought in the 1990s, hundreds of thousands of North Koreans were estimated to have died as a result.
Worse still, even if North Korea were to submit a request for international aid, the international community would be resistant to help. Due to previous unpaid debts, widespread government corruption, and a continued desire to develop nuclear weapons, the DPRK will likely receive very little international aid from developed countries not named China or Russia. Unless the North decides to officially begin denuclearizing or take steps toward a more transparent, accountable government, most countries will remain unwilling to cooperate.
Unless the DPRK changes its tune (or China remains willing and able to keep the country propped up), the results could be catastrophic.