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The Effect of Famine in North Korea Cause and Effect Essay


The Asian continent is the world’s largest and most populous located mainly in the eastern and northern hemispheres. The population in Asia is estimated at about 4 billion people representing a whooping 60% of the world’s total human population as it currently stands (Lee 500).

The Pacific Ocean borders Asian to the east while India is to the south of Asia. Asia is also bounded on the north by the Arctic Ocean. There are several independent states in Asia with China as the single largest country. It is these many countries that define Asia’s varying distribution of wealth.

It is also characterized by its immeasurable size and magnificent range of different cultures, historical backgrounds, environmental orientation, natural resources and different government systems.

The paper seeks to primarily focus on the effects of famine in North Korea. It will highlight its background information, the cause of famine in detail as well as the role of its government system in influencing economic development.

North Korea is a one of the countries in the larger Asia. It is also referred to as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) (Lee 513). Pyongyang is the largest and capital city of North Korea. It is divided from South Korea by The Korean Demilitarized Zone.

North Korea borders China to its western region and Russian to the North-east. In 1948, North Korea declined to participate in an election that was held in the south which was supervised by the United Nations. This refusal led to the creation of the current independent governments of North and South Korean states (Lee 517).

Continued tag of war for the sovereignty over the whole of Peninsula resulted in the Korean War in the year 1950. The war ended three years later with armistice but no peace treaty was ever signed which implies that the two states are still at war on book. The two states joined the UN in 1991 with North Korea withdrawing unilaterally from the armistice in May 2009.

As far as politics is concerned, North Korea has been a single-party state. Its united front is steered by the Korean Workers’ Party and is governed by the ideology of self-reliance known as Juche which was advocated by North Korea’s late “Eternal President” Kim Il-sung.

The ideology was made official in 1972 when the state adopted a new constitution. Juche had been used all along by Kim Il-sung to develop policies since mid 1950s. North Korea is officially a socialist republic but its operations have made other outside countries to regard it as a totalitarian Stalinistic characterized by dictatorship.

Kim Jong-il, Kim Il-sung’s son, is the current leader of the armed forces and secretary of the KWP Central Committee Secretariat. Kim Il-sung is the only president since he was never replaced when he died in 1994, but instead he was the given the name, “Eternal President”.

The ceasefire of 1953 marked the end of the Korean War but since then the relationship between the government of North Korea and America, Canada, Japan, Europe, the European Union, as well as South Korea has been tense (Eberstadt, Marc, & Albina 86).

This has been fueled by North Korean program of enriching uranium. North Korean legislature is the Supreme People’s Assembly which is currently being led by Kim Yong -man

North Korean climate is also of notable importance. It has four major seasons across the year. Long winter season comes with biting cold. This country experiences snowfall of 37 days on average during the winter season.

It ha s also been established that the northern mountainous regions have a tendency to experience particularly harsh weather which in turn may negatively affect cultivation (Noland, Sherman, & Tao 437). The period during which summer occurs is relatively shorter.

It tends to be hot, humid, and rainy as a result of the southern and southeast monsoon winds that blow moisture from over the Pacific Ocean. It is during summer that the Peninsula is affected by typhoons with a frequency of once every summer. The third and the fourth seasons are the spring and autumn respectively.

They are transitional periods which are characterized by mild temperatures and varying winds which bring forth pleasing weather.

Moreover, there are natural hazards that occur in North Korea which include; drought experienced during the spring season and later occasionally followed by destructive flooding. Typhoons, on the other hand, are experienced mostly for the period of the early fall.

North Korea has experienced disasters of varying magnitudes that have impacted negative on the country’s general development. In 1995, North Korea was hit by devastating famine and by 1997; the damage was at its peak.

The famine’s origin was traced by the country’s authority to the extraordinary floods coupled with the collapse of the Soviet Union in the mid-1990s (Noland, Sherman, & Tao 459).

The losses caused by starvation and hunger-related illness have been estimated, according to North Korea’s Public Security Ministry, to be between 2.5 million and 3 million lives. This was during the period between 1995 and March 1998, which represents about 12 % of the country’s total population in 2009 (Eberstadt, Marc, & Albina 94).

Prior to the famine, North Korea could provide food to all its citizens following the massive industrialization program of agricultural production in the preceding decades. The economic system had been relatively stable due to healthy relationship with the Soviet Union as far as trade and pricing was concerned.

The economic development has always been directly under the control of the state. The dawn of the unfortunate fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s impacted negatively on the economic growth of the country due to loss of ready market (Eberstadt, Marc, & Albina 97).

There was a significant decrease in productivity in the country’s agricultural and industrial sectors. These events were to set the pace for the then looming crisis in North Korea.

It was in the year 1992 and 1993 that the media in North Korea started advocating for regulation of daily meals by the citizens (Smith 98). The media requested people to reduce the meals per day to two rather than the usual three, claiming that excessive eating was unhealthy for the body.

People in some regions started experiencing food shortages and they could go for days without food despite the government’s concerted efforts to supply the rationing coupons. Food distribution started going down in the later months of 1994 and this implied that the shops had nothing to offer then.

In 1994, the North Korean media officially admitted that hunger existed in the country (Niksch, 11 April, 1996). A year later, the North Korean government gave in to the fact that there was a national food shortage.

This admission triggered negotiations for external food aid and in June, the government in Pyongyang reached a consensus with the governments of Japan and South Korea.

The following month, government announced to its citizens that the country will receive foreign food aid, though the authorities did not mention the role of the South in the emergency rescue.

While still reacting to the national hunger crisis emanating from the failure of trade and production systems, North Korea was yet to experience another equally devastating disaster that only helped to enhance the existing disaster (Smith 107).

It was in the months of July and August, 1995 that the country experienced catastrophic floods that brought North Korea crumbling. The effects were overwhelming. According to government sources, it resulted in the displacement of 5.4 million people as well as the destruction of about 330, 000 hectares of land used for crop production.

Furthermore, about 1.9 million tons of grain had been completely lost in the havoc (Eberstadt, Marc, & Albina 101). The damage accruing from floods alone, as reported by the government, was estimated at about $15 billion.

The impacts of the floods were immensely huge. At the end of 1995, reports from reliable sources estimated that about 2.1 million and 500,000 pregnant women were at risk of dying due to starvation, especially in the following months (Noland, Sherman, & Tao 467).

In July 1996, floods, though of lesser severity were experienced resulting in renewed call for help in anticipation of more devastating effects in the form of famine.

In March 1997, North Korea started reporting cases of malnourishment caused by famine. The claims of a major famine were, however, disputed by other observers on the ground. It is imperative to note that famine in North Korean is a product of so many other factors characterized by systematic crisis and continued decline in income generation (Smith 106).

Entitlement of vulnerable groups has also helped in escalating the problem due to starvation. Decisions by the government to regulate supply of food through the Public Distribution System (PDS) exposed the entitlement groups to starvation more than the market forces did. PDS as a system has been used for some time to supply subsidized food rations to about 62% of the country’s population (Smith 110).

Apart from the ray of other structural problems in North Korea, the organizational problems in the agricultural sector have added to the crisis. The over-centralization of decision-making as well as over-reliance on state farms has been identified to be part of the major causes of famine (Smith, 112).

Most of the country’s crisis, therefore, does not arise solely from natural disasters but government policies and operations have helped in courting trouble for the North Korean people.

Immediate reforms to the government system should be made as well as the restoration of the country’s global image since even after a decade into the 21st century; the country has sour relations with most partner states like South Korea and the US.

The essay has briefly discussed North Korean as a country. It has elaborated on the causes and effects of famine which include poor trade systems, and catastrophic floods resulting in the deaths of millions of North Korean people.

Government policies have been identified as playing a major role in thwarting economic development in North Korea and that a lot need to be done to save the country from further devastation.

Works Cited

Eberstadt, N., Marc, R., & Albina, T. (2005). Impact of the Collapse of Soviet and Russian Trade with the DPRK, 1989-1993. The Korean Journal of National Unification. 4 (2) 86-103

Lee, H. (2009). Korea and World Affairs: Supply and Demand for Grains in North Korea. Journal of Policy Reform. 14 (3) 500-52.

Niksch, L. (1996). North Korean Food Shortages: U.S. and Allied Responses. CRS Report to Congress, Washington, 11 April.

Noland, M., Sherman, R. & Tao W. (1999). Rigorous Speculation: The Collapse and Revival of the North Korean Economy. Working Paper Series No. 99-1. Washington: Institute for International Economics. 435-67

Smith, H. (2000). The North Korean Food Economy: Catalyst for Collapse? In Economic Integration of the Korean Peninsula. SPECIAL REPORT. Washington: Institute for International Economics, 97-112

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