Arduous March: Millions of North Koreans at the Brink of Starvation

The covid pandemic coupled with severe economic hardships has brought the most controversial nation to the brink of famine. Millions of North Koreans are standing on the verge of falling prey to acute starvation. During the last famine, Arduous March, no one outside the country knew about the horrendous state of people suffering and dying of hunger, until it was out of control.

Is the country retracing the steps of the 1994 famine which cost it millions of lives? Seeing the dire strait, will president Kim Jong Un let the international aid agencies in North Korea? And if not, then who can help the nation out of this hardship?

What Has led North Korea to Arduous March Again?

North Korea’s economy is one of the most tightly controlled, least free, and highly inefficient economies of the world. A large section of the country’s wealth is spent in maintaining the security and military structures leaving very little for civilian welfare. In recent past years, the nuclear-armed country was putting its almost entire effort into strengthening its security with continuous nuclear missile tests; which was concerning for the world leaders, given Kim Jong Un’s perpetual threats of nuclear attacks.

Therefore, in response to the ceaseless missiles and nuclear tests, the US in 2016 and 2017 started putting more United Nations sanctions on North Korea mainly targeting the civilian economy. The country’s fragile economy was hit hard by the increased restrictions on oil and energy products.

The Trump administrations and the UN’s succeeded in reproducing almost the same energy shortage as during the arduous March. The cataclysmal fall in food production of North Korea in 2018 was thus pre-planned by the international leaders. Furthermore, the UN sanctions on the country’s export earning resulted in a huge cumbersome surge in food import which thus resulted in a gross shortage of food in the country.

But, the plans of the international government were turned another way around by the unprecedented pandemic. The lack of a nutritious diet and proper medical facilities amongst the civilians made North Koreans extremely vulnerable to COVID-19; therefore to protect its people from the coronavirus, North Korea decided to close its borders.

This lead to a severe shortage of basic commodities along with the scarcity of food. In a report by Human Rights Watch, Lina Yoon says “there is barely any food going into the country from China.” She writes that North Korea is not just in scarcity of food but basic items like soap, toothpaste, and batteries. The chilling weather, with temperature, ranges between -21C to -16C, irregular electricity, unhygienic toilets, scarcity of running water, warm clothes, and adequate footwear; on top of all this forced participation in recently winded up ’80-day battle’ is pushing millions of North Koreans closer to their limits.

North Korea: At Verge Of Another Famine

New reports were depicting the suffering of people in the reticent nation. In the early months of the pandemic, Kim Jong Un accepted that North Korea is facing its “worst-ever” times. The reason behind the worsened situation as said by the government was:

  • COVID-19 pandemic
  • The US-led sanctions
  • The heavy flood of summer 2020

Though there is no concrete proves of mass starvation in North Korea yet, but, in this eighth party meeting; Kim’s statement while addressing the grass-root party members is depicting the risks of severe famine the country is on verge of. “I made up my mind to ask the WPK [Workers’ Party of Korea] organizations at all levels, including its Central Committee and the cell secretaries of the entire party, to wage another more difficult ‘arduous march’ in order to relieve our people of the difficulty, even a little,” said Kim in the meeting.

Publically drawing the current situation to a deadly famine is a clear sign of more difficult times ahead for the country. Experts believe this to be the biggest test of Kim’s nine-year regime as president.

What is Arduous March?

Arduous march also knowns as the March of Suffering or North Korean Famine is used to refer to a period of mass starvation between 1994 and 1998. The human tragedy was the result of years of mismanagement and economic crisis that cost the country millions of lives and left it with a wrecked agricultural sector.

Who will help North Korea out of the famine?

China and Russia have been one of the biggest suppliers of food aid, mainly rice and wheat in 2019. But, the food assistance was kept as secretive as possible. China has also facilitated the country with fertilizer to boost crop production, but the flood in 2020 devastated major saplings and the agricultural sector of North Korea is still depressed.

According to a Chinese report since the border closure triggered by the COVID pandemic, trading and food aid supply have shrunk by more than 80% compared to the previous year.

But new observations based on laws passed by North Korea recently are showing that the country is planning to increase imports from China again. Furthermore, experts believe that there is a thin chance of North Korea falling prey to another arduous march because China has got its back because of various diplomatic reasons.