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Chad O'Carroll has written on North Korea since 2010 and writes between London and Seoul.
10.1 million North Koreans will be in “urgent need of food assistance” in 2020, the United Nations Resident Coordinator for DPRK indicated on Monday, despite Kim Jong Un’s claims of a “bumper” harvest in 2019.
The estimate, which matches World Food Program (WFP) and Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) figures from May 2019, came with explanation about the challenges facing North Korea’s food production sector.
“Food insecurity is mainly driven by insufficient agriculture production (and) households’ inability to cope with recurrent natural disasters, which have major impact on productive assets,” the provisional “Needs and Priorities” report for 2020 said.
But the warning comes after the North Korean leader was reported by state media – in Korean only – to have told attendees of the December 2019 Plenum that the country enjoyed a record harvest that year.
Follow-up coverage by the DPRK-linked Choson Sinbo on January 20 reiterated the “unprecedented bumper crop” of 2019, going as far as to detail how the country’s farmers had been able to do so well.
One specialist familiar with North Korean agriculture said the discrepancy in UN and state media reporting about food production capabilities indicated the WFP may be in a “difficult position.”
“Their last appeal in 2019 warning of the worst harvest for a decade was followed by an announcement from Kim Jong Un that the country had just had a record harvest,” said Peter Ward, a contributing analyst with NK News‘s sister site NK Pro.
“The WFP is more likely right about the food situation when they point to chronic food insecurity, but being openly contradicted by North Korea’s leader certainly will not make it easy for them to raise funds and help poorer members of North Korean society get access to food, and other aid that they are in need of,” he continued.
To tackle the estimated food shortage in 2020 – affecting 40.4% of the population according to the data – the UN Resident Coordinator’s office said Monday that $29 million dollars of aid will be required.
That comes as part of a bigger ask for $107M – down from the $120M sought in 2019 – by UN agencies working inside North Korea.
The aid recipients flagged in the provisional report may reach a bigger audience in 2020 than in 2019, however.
“There is a 45 per cent increase in the number of people targeted with assistance rising from 3.8 million in 2019 to 5.5 million in 2020, thanks to the WHO coverage expansion to children under 15,” the “Needs and Priorities” document said.
“Notably in 2019, WHO targeted only children under five.”
The provisionally-marked document said that the UN system would in 2020 aim to focus on providing aid to the most vulnerable North Koreans, in particular, “the ones residing in Jagang, Kangwon, North and South Hwanghae provinces and Nampo municipality”.
Unless DPRK authorities open those areas up in 2020, that might be difficult.
A map provided in the same report showed that in 2019, there was “limited or no access by international staff” to much of Jagang and Kangwon provinces.
The UN’s call in 2019 provoked controversy, as many specialists said economic and agricultural data indicators did not suggest that North Korea was facing a pending crisis.
Edited by Oliver Hotham