North Korean famine
|Total deaths||0.2 to 3.5 million|
|Observations||Economic mismanagement, natural disasters,collapse of the Soviet bloc|
|Relief||food and humanitarian aid (1994 – present)|
|Consequences||Militarization of economy; spread of limited market activity; food aid from South Korea, China, United States, Japan and the European Union|
|North Korean famine|
|Revised Romanization||gonanui haenggun|
The North Korean famine, which together with the accompanying general economic crisis are known as the Arduous March (Hangul: 북한기근; Chosŏn'gŭl: 고난의 행군) in North Korea, occurred in North Korea from 1994 to 1998. Estimates of the death toll vary widely. Out of a total population of approximately 22 million, somewhere between 240,000 and 3,500,000 people died from starvation or hunger-related illnesses, with the deaths peaking in 1997.
In the late 1980s, when the Soviet Union was embarking on political and economic reform, it began demanding payment from North Korea for past and current aid – amounts North Korea could not repay. When Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, trade between the two countries ceased altogether and the North Korean economy collapsed. Without Soviet aid, the flow of inputs to the North Korea agricultural sector ended, and the government proved too inflexible to respond. As a result, food production decreased precipitously.
In the early 1990s, following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the economy of North Korea entered a period of steep internal decline that verged on complete collapse. The government initially responded to this crisis by intensifying policies practiced in the past that focused on increasing physical labor requirements due to limited access to new technology and necessary agricultural inputs, such as fertilizer and fuel. The country soon instigated austerity measures, dubbed the “eat two meals a day” campaign. These measures proved inadequate in stemming the economic decline. According to Professor Hazel Smith of Cranfield University,
... the methods of the past that had produced short-to medium-term gains might have continued producing further small economic benefits if the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc had remained and continued to supply oil, technology, and expertise.—Hazel Smith, Hungry for Peace: International Security, Humanitarian Assistance, and Social Change in North Korea
Without the help from these countries, North Korea was unable to respond adequately to the coming famine. For a time, China filled the gap left by the Soviet Union’s collapse and propped up North Korea’s food supply with significant aid. By 1993, China was supplying North Korea with a staggering 77 percent of its fuel imports and 68 percent of its food imports. Thus, North Korea replaced dependence on the Soviet Union with dependence on China – with predictably dire consequences. In 1993, China faced its own grain shortfalls and need for hard currency, and it sharply cut aid to North Korea.
Arduous March terminology 
The term "Arduous March" became a metaphor for the famine following a state propaganda campaign in 1993. The Rodong Sinmun urged Koreans to invoke the memory of an apocryphal fable from Kim Il-sung's time as a commander of a small group of anti-Japanese guerrilla fighters. The story, referred to as the Arduous March, is described as: fighting against thousands of enemies in 20 degrees below zero, braving through a heavy snowfall and starvation, the red flag fluttering in front of the rank."
The economic decline and failed policies provided the context for the famine in the early 1990s, but the floods and storms of the mid-1990s provided the catalyst. Specifically, the floods in July 1995 were described as being "of biblical proportions" by independent observers. As devastating floods savaged the country in 1995, arable land, harvests, grain reserves, and social and economic infrastructure were destroyed. The United Nations Department of Humanitarian Affairs reported that "between 30 July and 18 August 1995, torrential rains caused devastating floods in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). In one area, in Pyongsan county in North Hwanghae province, 877 mm of rain was recorded to have fallen in just seven hours, an intensity of precipitation unheard of in this area... water flow in the engorged Amnoc River, which runs along the Korea/China border, was estimated at 4.8 billion tons over a 72 hour period. Flooding of this magnitude had not been recorded in at least 70 years."
The major issues created by the flood were not only the destruction of crop lands and harvests, but also the loss of emergency grain reserves, as much of it was stored underground. According to the United Nations, the floods of 1994 and 1995 destroyed around 1.5 million tons of grain reserves, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that 1.2 million tons (or 12%) of grain production was lost in the 1995 flood. Due to the declining economy and devastating natural disasters, the DPRK did not have the resources to import food or resources, and people were faced with death and starvation. The floods, however, did not have a statistically significant impact on the nutritional status of North Korean children at that time.[dubious ][verification needed]
Widespread malnutrition 
With the widespread destruction of harvests and food reserves, the majority of the population became desperate for food, including areas well established in food production. In 1996, it was reported that people in "the so-called better-off parts of the country, were so hungry that they ate the maize cobs before the crop was fully developed." This reduced expected production of an already ravaged harvest by 50%. People everywhere were affected by the crisis, regardless of gender, affiliation or social class. Child malnutrition, as indicated by severe underweight, was found at 3.21% in 1987, 14% in 1997 and 7% in 2002.
Sŏn'gun, often spelled Songun, is North Korea's "Military First" policy, which prioritizes the Korean People's Army in affairs of state and allocates national resources to the "army first". However, even though the armed forces were given priority for the distribution of food, this did not mean they all received generous rations. In fact, the army was supposed to find ways to grow food to feed itself and develop industries that would permit it to purchase food and supplies from abroad. The rations received by military personnel were very basic, and “ordinary soldiers of the million-strong army often remained hungry, as did their families, who did not receive preferential treatment simply because a son or daughter was serving in the armed forces."
Women suffered significantly due to the gendered structure of North Korean society, which deemed women responsible for obtaining food, water and fuel for the family, often including extended family. Simultaneously, women had the highest participation in the workforce of any country in the world, calculated at 89%. Therefore, women not only had to remain in the work force but also obtain supplies for the family. Pregnant and nursing women faced severe difficulties in staying healthy; maternal mortality rates increased to approximately 41 per 1000, while simple complications such as anemia, hemorrhage and premature birth became common due to vitamin deficiency.
Children, especially those under two years old, were the most affected by the famine and poverty of the period. The World Health Organization reported death rates for children at 93 of every 1000, while those of infants were cited at 23 of every thousand. Understandably, "undernourished mothers found it difficult to maintain exclusive breast-feeding, and no suitable alternative was available. Infant formula was not produced locally, and only a minuscule amount was imported." Unfortunately, accurate statistics do not exist because of government policies, and it is likely that the mortality rates were understated.
Public Distribution System 
Food shortage was pronounced by the Public Distribution System (PDS)’s inefficiency. The PDS distributed (and technically still does, although there is little food to give out) food according to political standing and degree of loyalty to the state. The structure is as follows (the World Food Program has estimated that at least 600 grams/day of cereal is needed for a "survival ration"):
|Privileged Industrial Workers||900 grams/day|
|Ordinary Workers||700 grams/day|
|Retired Citizens||300 grams/day|
|2-4y years old||200 grams/day|
However, the extended period of food shortage put a strain on the system and spread the amount of food allocation thinly across the groups, affecting 62% of the population who were entirely reliant on the PDS. The system was feeding only 6% of the state by 1997.
|1992||Reduced another 10%|
|1994||450 down to 400 grams/day|
The annual amount farmers could keep fell from 167 to 107 kilograms each. In attempting to solve the hunger, albeit contentious, the North Korean government suggested “alternative foods” for the people to sustain themselves. For example, small bricks of bark, leaves and grass were added into the dietary routines of some.
Failure of sanitation, energy and health systems 
The threats from famine were compounded by severe damage to health systems and water, sanitation, and energy distribution systems. The DPRK lost an estimated 85% of hydroelectric capacity from damage caused by the floods, along with coal mines, supplies and transport facilities, reducing the ability for the country to produce its own energy. UN officials reported a complex set of problems, commenting that the power shortage problem of 1995-1997
was not due to a shortage of oil as only two of two dozen power stations were dependent on heavy fuel oil for power generation... and these were supplied by KEDO (the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization).... About 70% of power generated in the DPRK came from hydropower sources, and the serious winter-spring droughts of 1996 and 1997 (and a breakdown on one of the Yalu River’s large hydro turbines) created major shortages throughout the country at that time, severely cutting back railway transportation (which was almost entirely dependent on electric power), which in turn resulted in coal supply shortages to the coal-fueled power stations which supplied the remaining 20% of power in the country.
With breakdowns in the energy sector, and contamination of water sources due to the failure of sanitation facilities, the health care system was unable to cope with the situation. Inadequate inputs and power failure combined with outdated training and knowledge about health care techniques and procedures led to a health care crisis that added to the overall devastation. According to a 1997 UNICEF delegation,
hospitals were clean but wards were devoid of even the most rudimentary supplies and equipment; sphygmomanometers, thermometers, scales, kidney dishes, spatulas, IV giving sets, etc. The mission saw numerous patients being treated with home made beer bottle IV sets, clearly unsterile. There was an absence of ORS (oral rehydration solution) and even the most basic drugs such as analgesics and antibiotics.
With almost the entire infrastructure in some sort of disrepair, the famine escalated to crisis levels.
Estimated deaths 
An exact statistical number of deaths during the acute phase of the crisis, from 1994 to 1998, will probably never be fully determined. Independent analysis estimates between 800,000 and 1.5 million people died due to starvation, disease, or sickness caused by lack of food.
In 1998, US Congressional staffers who visited the country reported that: "Therefore, we gave a range of estimates, from 300,000 to 800,000 dying per year, peaking in 1997. That would put the total dead from the North Korean food shortage at between 900,000 to 2.4 million between 1995 and 1998." Higher estimates range from 2-3 million.
A survey by North Korea's Public Security Ministry suggests that 2.5 to 3 million people died from 1995 to March 1998, although the numbers may have been inflated to secure additional food aid. Estimates based on the most recent North Korean census suggest that 240,000 to 420,000 people died during the famine and that there were 600,000 to 850,000 unnatural deaths from 1993 to 2008.
Black markets 
At the same time, the years of famine were also marked by dramatic revival of illegal, private market activities. Smuggling across the border boomed, and up to 250,000 North Koreans moved to China. The widespread government corruption led to a near complete collapse of old controls and regulations which were not enforced any more. When fuel became scarce while demand for logistics rose, so-called servi-cha (서비차, McC-Rsr: sŏbich'a, “service cars”) operations formed, wherein an entrepreneur provides transportation to businesses, institutions and individuals without access to other means of transportation, while the car is formally owned by a legitimate enterprise or unit that also provides transportation permits. Some experts have described the process as "capitalism from below" or "natural death of North Korean Stalinism".
The average official salary in 2011 was equivalent to $2 per month while the actual monthly income seems to be around $15 because most North Koreans earn money in illegal small businesses: trade, subsistence farming, and handicrafts. The illegal economy is dominated by women because men have to attend their places of official work even though most of the factories are non-functioning.
International response 
Initial assistance to North Korea started as early as 1990, with small-scale support from religious groups in South Korea and assistance from UNICEF. In August 1995, North Korea made an official request for humanitarian aid and the international community responded accordingly:
Beginning in 1996, the U.S. also began shipping food aid to North Korea through the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) to combat the famine. Shipments peaked in 1999 at nearly 600,000 tons making the U.S. the largest foreign aid donor to the country at the time. Under the Bush Administration, aid was drastically reduced year after year from 320,000 tons in 2001 to 28,000 tons in 2005. The Bush Administration took criticism for using "food as a weapon" during talks over the North's nuclear weapons program, but insisted the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) criteria were the same for all countries and the situation in North Korea had "improved significantly since its collapse in the mid-1990s."
South Korea and China remain the largest donors of food aid to North Korea. The U.S. objects to this manner of donating food due to lack of supervision. In 2005, South Korea and China combined to provide almost 1 million tons of food aid, each contributing half.
Humanitarian aid from North Korea's neighbors has been cut off at times to provoke North Korea into resuming boycotted talks. For example, South Korea decided to "postpone consideration" of 500,000 tons of rice for the North in 2006, but the idea of providing food as a clear incentive (as opposed to resuming "general humanitarian aid") has been avoided. There have also been aid disruptions due to widespread theft of railroad cars used by mainland China to deliver food relief.
Current status 
North Korea has not yet resumed its food self-sufficiency and relies on external food aid from South Korea, China, the United States, Japan, the European Union and others. In 2002, North Korea requested that food supplies no longer be delivered.
In the mid-2000s, the World Food Programme (WFP) reported that famine conditions were in imminent danger of returning to North Korea, and the government was reported to have mobilized millions of city-dwellers to help rice farmers. In 2012, WFP reported that food would be sent to North Korea as soon as possible. The food would be processed by a local processor and delivered directly to North Korean citizens.
Agricultural production increased from about 2.7 million metric tons in 1997 to 4.2 million metric tons in 2004. In 2008, famine continued to be a problem for North Korea, although less so than in the mid to late 1990s. Flooding in 2007 and reductions in food aid exacerbated the problem.
In 2011, during a visit to North Korea, former US President Jimmy Carter reported that one third of children in North Korea were malnourished and stunted in their growth because of a lack of food. He also said that the North Korean government had reduced daily food intake from 1,400 calories to 700 calories in 2011 (by comparison, a normal food intake for a healthy European is 2,000-2,500 calories per day). Some scholars believed that North Korea was purposefully exaggerating the food shortage, aiming to receive additional food supplies for its planned 2012 mass celebrations by means of foreign aid.
Escaped North Koreans reported in September 2010 that starvation had returned to the nation. A study in 2011 by South Korean anthropologists of North Korean children who had defected to China found that 18-year-old males were 5 inches shorter than South Koreans their age. Roughly 45% of North Korean children under the age of five are stunted from malnutrition. Most people eat meat only on public holidays, namely Kim Il-sung's and Kim Jong-il’s birthdays. One report by the Tokyo Shimbun in April 2012 claimed that since the death of Kim Jong-il in December 2011, around 20,000 people had starved to death in South Hwanghae Province. Another report by the Japanese Asia Press agency in January 2013 claimed that in North and South Hwanghae provinces more than 10,000 people had died of famine. Other international news agencies have begun circulating stories of cannibalism.
See also 
- 2006 North Korea flooding
- 2007 North Korea flooding
- Economy of North Korea
- Great Chinese Famine
- History of North Korea
- List of Korea-related topics
- World Food Programme
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