Pyongyang (AsiaNews) - Thanks to the enormous waste ordered by the regime, a disastrous economic policy and an attitude of international isolation unequalled in the world, the famine that has struck North Korea this year risks killing millions of people. The charge is made by Tony Banbury, director for Asia of the World Food Programme of the United Nations, who says the situation is serious, and rapidly getting worse.
At the moment, according to UN estimates, 6.5 million North Koreans (out of a total population of 23 million) have nothing to eat; the numbers could rise rapidly even within the next few days. Entirely dependent on international aid, North Korea has closed its borders after the worldwide condemnation prompted by its atomic tests. This has created a shortage of supplies, which, because of last year's floods, continue to deteriorate.
Prices in Pyongyang's food stores have doubled since last year, and the shelves are increasingly bare: "the WFP has long warned that last year's floods would exacerbate DPRK's (North Korea's) chronic food problem and we are now seeing the effects in the markets," says Jean-Pierre de Margerie, the WFP's North Korea country director. Tony Banbury adds that the WFP is taking the situation "very seriously", but "the WFP cannot solve the problem on our own". The North Korean regime, says the international agency, "needs to provide the necessary operating conditions for aid agencies so that donors have confidence that their donations will be used for the intended purposes. And donors need to do their part to ensure that the people of DPRK do not go hungry, or worse".
North Korea has long been familiar with the drama of famine. During the first half of the 1990's, more than two million people died of hunger after a series of floods and droughts. The government has never established a food policy based on the real possibilities of the territory, continuing to proclaim its independence but in fact surviving through South Korean and Chinese aid. But with the new president of Seoul, the conservative Lee Myung-bak, things have changed: without progress in the field of human rights, the newly elected president has said, there will be no humanitarian aid.
Instead of implementing policies of conservation and diplomatic rapprochement, Pyongyang has emphasised political propaganda and the cult of personality. North Korean dissidents who have fled abroad denounce the waste of millions of dollars, destined to preserve the myth of the founder of the People's Republic, Kim Il-sung ("eternal president" of the country, even if he has been dead for 14 years), and his son, the "dear leader" Kim Jong-il.
According to a report published by the Daily North Korea, which gathers testimonies from within the country, each year Pyongyang spends 800,000 dollars solely to preserve the body of the father of the country. This is cared for by seven Russian technicians - experts in the art of embalming - who rub the body twice a week with expensive chemical products that help to preserve the skin of the dead president.
Moreover, some satellite photographs, also published by the same group, demonstrate a fanatical new project of the regime: the construction of a series of subterranean tunnels connecting the bases of the statues of the two dictators spread around the country. These tunnels, which lead to a subterranean bunker, serve in case of attack to preserve the approximately 140,000 "works of art" present in North Korea. The cost of the project is around 890 million dollars, enough to buy 6 million tonnes of grain, which could save the lives of hundreds of thousands of people crushed by hunger.