North Korea struggles to feed the capital

Living in the North Korean capital Pyongyang is a privilege. It is home to North Korea’s political elite and top military officials. They get the best of everything, houses, education, entertainment, and food. If Pyongyang struggles to feed its people, you can count on the rest of the country struggling more.

Our sources on the ground have told us that no food rations were given for four months. But now Pyongyang has done a bit of catch up and provided some food rations to the people. However, the government had to use emergency military supplies to do so. Even so, only half of the rations were rice and half corn, which is inferior in nutrition. And people lower on the social ladder got less rations and a smaller proportion of rice.

Still, the people of Pyongyang do not dare to complain too loudly. People who do, may well loose the privilege of living in Pyongyang. And however bad the situation is in the city, it is always better than elsewhere, where people may not get rations at all. The fear of having to move is real, as the government both makes it more difficult to get residency in the city and is also actively moving residents to other locations in the country. As they cannot provide rations for too many people, it is easier to reduce the population of the capital.

It is one more indication of continued food shortages in the country. International sanctions and border closures due to the Covid pandemic had already challenged North Korea’s ability to provide for its citizens. Recently very severe monsoon rains have destroyed 100 000 acers of farmland, shortly before the harvest. This does not bode well for the winter and early spring, as food supplies will run out faster.

North Korea refuses flood relief from other countries. They are afraid that food imports and emergency help from abroad will inevitably lead to the spread of Covid-19, a challenge North Korea’s medical system is unable to cope with. Starvation is considered the lesser threat.

Food shortages in North Korea are not inevitable. They are the result of environmental and economic mismanagement, nuclear aspirations leading to sanctions, distrust of other countries, a cult of self-reliance and decades of self-imposed isolation. The land is fertile and has many resources that could be traded for additional food and agricultural necessities. Where possible, Back to Jerusalem supports projects that help North Koreans feed their families. But bigger changes are needed to end hunger in this country. And for these changes we pray.

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