December 05, 2023

The other North Korean famine

The disaster of the mid-1990s was not the first time bad decisions left many to go hungry

The disastrous famine of the 1990s, known in the official North Korean parlance as the “Arduous March,” attracted a great deal of the international attention. However, this was not the first famine in North Korea history. The previous famine happened exactly 60 years ago, culminating in late spring 1955.

Unlike the Arduous March, the 1954-55 disaster was barely noticed at the time. After the end of the Korean War, the North Korean government was remarkably efficient in controlling the DMZ, so few if any defectors could tell the outside world about the ongoing crisis. The official press, with only one exception, remained silent too, devoting the newspaper pages to countless enthusiastic reports about alleged “great successes” and the “unprecedented triumphs” of the North Korean economy. Last but not least, the crisis did not develop into a prolonged disaster: It was over by the end of 1955.