|THE NORTH KOREAN |
August 26, 1997
in this forum:
How widespread is the famine? What causes the indifference in South Korea? How likely is another war? Shouldn't we defer to South Korea on questions of aid? How do I help? Wouldn't a free market economy end the famine? How accurate are food estimates in North Korea? How much has China helped its ally? What is being done to prevent future famines? Additional Comments...
August 5, 1997:
The NewsHour reports on new talks between North and South Korea brought about by widespread famine in the North.
June 11, 1997:
Margaret Warner discusses the state of North Korea with World Vision Vice President Andrew Natsios.
April 8, 1997:
Two Senators report on the state of the food crisis in North Korea after returning from the region.
February 11, 1997:
The former U.S. ambassador to South Korea discusses the recent labor unrest there and the famine in North Korea.
December 31, 1996
Charles Krause leads a discussion with two experts on recent tensions between North and South Korea.
November 29, 1996
Rep. Bill Richardson (D-NM) brought home an American man who was being held in North Korea.
May 21, 1996
Facing the real possibility of famine, North Korea's government has allowed United Nations relief officials into what are normally closed borders.
A question from Calvin W. Hurd of Swisshome, OR:
I have read that control of the food supply is the usual way in which Communist governments keep control of the people. Couldn't their food supply problem be solved simply by going to a free market economy? If you let the farmers make money won't the famine end?
Ted Yamamori of Food for the Hungry responds:
Currently, the situation in North Korea is so dire that there are no quick and easy answers. In July 1995, they experienced 100-year floods. In July 1996, torrential rains and flooding caused $1.7 billion in damage. In 1997 they have been suffering from a severe heatwave and drought. I just heard that some of the coastal provinces have been flooded with sea water from Typhoon Winnie destroying even more crops and homes.
Change will take a long time in North Korea. As a humanitarian organization, we will still help people in a Stalinist, isolationist country if we can. We also want to encourage them to embrace agricultural reform and sound economic development practices. By providing expertise and sharing our resources, we can help change occur.
Andrew Natsios of World Vision responds:
Two consecutive years of natural disasters, including hail storms, floods and drought, have resulted in severe food shortages, most recently the destruction of 70 percent of North Korea's corn crops. In addition, outmoded and failed economic and agricultural practices have created a food and public health crisis of staggering proportions.
Going to a free market economy would increase production over a longer term but would not deal with the natural disasters such as floods, hail or drought.
The North Korean authorities are embarrassed by the food crisis, as it implies their system is failing, and are reluctant to show how bad the conditions are. They universally blame the floods of 1995 and 1996 when in fact the chronic food shortage is a result of poor agricultural policies, widespread soil erosion, collapse of the industry producing agricultural inputs, and the simple fact that only 20 percent of the land is arable.
The World Food Program estimates that 800,000 tons of food are still needed between now and the fall harvest to help prevent widespread famine. Clearly, the food security situation that North Korea faces is daunting both in the short term and in the near future. While other communist nations such as China have relaxed their economic systems allowing for free market and limited capitalistic reforms in their systems, it is unclear how the North Koreans will proceed. North Korea has taken some initial steps to increase the numbers of private plots and allow expansion of some private markets.
The famine response will accelerate change for the better. The more the North Korean elites and people know about the outside world the shorter-lived the regime will be in its current autocratic form. The famine response itself will weaken the hold of the central government on the country.