02/25/2011, 00.00
NORTH KOREA

Hunger reaches alarming levels as people resort to eating wild grasses and dirt

by Joseph Yun Li-sun
Five NGOs sound the alarm after their teams come back from Pyongyang. People are desperate and thousands could die. Source warns AsiaNews that hunger might cause a popular uprising and lead to a mass exodus to the South.
 Seoul (AsiaNews) – Juche, the ideology of self-reliance launched by dictator Kim Il-sung in the 1950s, is wiping out North Korea. So many North Koreans are hungry that they are resorting to eating wild grasses, when they find it, or just starving to death. Looming on the horizon is a popular uprising that might lead to a mass exodus to the South, this according to officials from five US-based aid agencies who have sounded the alarm after returning from a trip to North Korea

The five NGOs, Christian Friends of Korea, Global Resource Services, Mercy Corps, Samaritan’s Purse and World Vision, were in North Korea on the invitation of the government. Their teams report that 50 per cent to 80 per cent of the wheat and barley planted for harvesting in the spring has been wiped out by the bitter cold of the past two months. They also said that hospitals reported an increase in malnutrition over the past six months.

The issue is complex. North Korea’s main foreign donors (United States and South Korea) cut humanitarian aid following North Korean military provocations last year. The sinking of ROKS Cheonan, which left 46 sailors dead, and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island incensed South Korea’s conservative government. In a statement, President Lee Myung-bak said that his administration would not provide aid until Pyongyang officially apologised.

The United States stopped aid out of concern that it would be used for North Korea’s rulers and armed forces, and not the people. ‘Dear leader’ Kim Jong-il has in fact refused to allow international monitors into the country, and has always insisted that aid be handed over at the border to his military.

Compounding the situation are the government’s disastrous economic policies and currency reform that pulled whatever rug was left under the population’s feet.

“It is all true,” a Korean source told AsiaNews. “People have nothing to eat. I have seen personally children eat dirt. The danger is that, without outside help, people might rise up and be mowed down by the army. Or they could pour across the border into the South. Seoul however would not be able to handle such a flow and could decide to send them back.”

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