Only North Korea’s government can end hunger in North Korea

Although I have many, many unanswered questions about how the U.N. is able to fully assess exactly how many North Koreans are going hungry, let’s just stipulate that it’s a majority of those living outside Pyongyang:

Nearly 70 percent of the North Korean population, roughly seven in 10 people, is undernourished, a U.S. broadcaster reported Wednesday, citing a U.N. report on the need for humanitarian aid to North Korea.

According to the report released the previous day by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), some 18 million North Korean people, including 1.3 million children under five, are malnourished because of the socialist country’s poor state food rations which lack protein and fat, Radio Free Asia said.

The report also pointed out that the North’s daily food rations remained at 300-380 grams per person on average last year, just half of some 600 grams that the United Nations recommends as the minimal daily requirement, the broadcaster said. [Yonhap]

U.N. agencies think they know the answer: more money and fewer sanctions. Evidently, Pyongyang didn’t steal enough money out of the Bangladesh Bank to buy rice and baby formula (just kidding: the $80 million take was almost enough to satisfy the $100 million the World Food Program needs to operate in North Korea each year, and much of that $100 is spent on the salaries of the foreign workers or marked-up fuel and labor, which the agencies buy from … the North Korean government).

Yet aid agencies are still advocating the same failing strategy they’ve pursued for decades, which has hardly made a statistical dent in the percentage of undernourished North Koreans. This is, as the U.N. Panel of Experts recently reported, “largely the result of priority being accorded to the military and defence industry, which has significantly distorted economic resource allocation.” (Para. 279.) But even this isn’t the most obscene part of this story.

I’ve documented, for example, how Kim Jong-il squandered millions on its military, and on a mausoleum for Kim Il-sung, while millions were starving or dying of opportunistic disease in the countryside. Or how Kim Jong-un continues to spend six times on luxury imports what the U.N. World Food Program is asking foreign donors for each year. Or what it spends to build luxury facilities like ski resorts, amusement parks, and 3D theaters for its elites. Or the billions it spends on missile development and testing, or nukes (for which we still have no cost estimates). Or Kim Jong-un’s affinity for yachts. Or why it is that Pyongyang can make fake viagra for export, but not medicine for the many North Koreans afflicted with tuberculosis, or for the women afflicted with STDs after being forced into prostitution by poverty.

A more overlooked cause is the regime’s interference with private agriculture and markets that provide a substantial share of the food that most North Koreans survive on. Yet another is the fact that Pyongyang exports a substantial amount of the food it produces to raise cash for things that matter more to it than the nutrition of its people. It is as if Pyongyang wants its people to be hungry. And after all, hunger is a great tool for controlling people.

Meanwhile, aid agencies squander their credibility by blaming weather, sanctions, and everything but Pyongyang’s choices for hunger in North Korea. One reason for that is obvious: aid workers who talk about Pyongyang’s choices get expelled. Another might be a form of Stockholm Syndrome, or the good-hearted yet naive personality profiles of those who tend to become aid workers. Or maybe it has something to do with the spy North Korea planted inside World Food Program headquarters in Rome.

For whatever reason, humanitarian aid isn’t solving North Korea’s long-term hunger problem. By failing to challenge (and financially rewarding) Pyongyang’s policies, it may even be perpetuating it. By now, it should be clear that we will not improve nutrition in North Korea until we challenge Pyongyang’s policies in the eyes of its people, and help those people provide for themselves through the markets.

In the meantime, perhaps we should send our aid to the people of Bangladesh instead.


  1. I’m just going to get this off my chest before North Korea nukes off again. We will inevitably be told that the next nuclear test will be a “test,” for President Trump, and to a certain extent it is. It is a test for all of us. It is a test to determine the extent to which we believe in the Kimilsungist personality cult. Do we believe that North Korea’s dictators are over and above whatever means the US could use to stifle it? Are they truly men of iron-will ? Is the Paektusan bloodline immune to the forces that caused Iran to negotiate? Or, are they petty tyrants who depend upon access to financial services and need money to survive just as much as any other regime or person or organization in human history?


  2. The DPRK is top-down style government ran with a cult-of-personality belief system. Kim dynasty is not a meritocracy.
    What did FDR do when the dust bowl affected the American Midwest? He sent experts(bureaucrats, academics) to timely study,figure it out, report back (to him and Congress) with a plan of action.
    Kim Jong Un travels the DPRK to some extent. It looks more like a groupie love-in rock concert than reform or improvement.
    The DPRK is more circus than bread and circuses. Pyongyang is a bubble of elites enjoying the fat. Kim Jong Un doesn’t know how to get around them or want to. The rural areas just have soldiers haul wood and do menial tasks on their ten-eleven year enlistments.