Global Policy Forum

Millions of North Koreans

April 27, 1999

Beijng -- The World Food Program has drawn a devastating portrait of widespread hunger in North Korea. Millions of people survive by eating grasses, corn stalks or whatever else they can forage, the U.N. agency reported Tuesday.

Most of North Korea's 23 million people rely on food rations from the nation's communist government. But now, they can expect little food until the first of summer's vegetable and potato crops are harvested in June, said David Morton, the WFP representative in North Korea's capital, Pyongyang.

"These are the most difficult months of the year for the people of North Korea," Morton said in a written statement. "Most people try to survive by whatever coping mechanisms they have." North Korea's public food stocks have been used up, the agency said. The government distributed the last of the fall harvest with early April's monthly food ration -- 1.5 kilograms (3 1/3 pounds) of grain, or enough to last a person about 10 days, according to the U.N. agency.

The gap between harvests has become an annual occurrence in North Korea's four years of slow-motion famine. In the lean weeks to come, government mills will churn out a staple of the crisis -- edible roots, grasses, sea weed, corn stalks and the like often mixed with cereals and enzymes and cooked into noodles or buns. The substitutes are "basically a stomach filler" with little nutrition and eating them causes digestive problems especially for children and the elderly, Morton said.

Floods, drought and other natural disasters ruined North Korea's collective agriculture already crippled by mismanagement and the loss of crucial Soviet bloc trading partners. Without food and imported fuel, North Korea's centrally planned economy has largely broken down. Morton said the worst food shortages were believed to be occurring in the cold, land-scarce, heavily urbanized northeast.

The World Food Program is currently feeding 6.7 million people -- largely infants and young children, pregnant and nursing women and hospital patients.

The agency wants to expand the program to 8 million people to feed older children as of July 1 through a $260 million appeal launched last week.

North Korea's government has taken piecemeal measures to cope with the famine. It has allowed more private farming plots and farmers markets outside the state distribution system.

But it has not moved to fundamentally overhaul the government-planned economy.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

More Information on Sanctions in North Korea


FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.