Some families in North Korea face starvation due to international sanctions, sources say

October 2018 photo of North Korean porter in Sunchon, South Pyongan Province
October 2018 photo of North Korean porter in Sunchon, South Pyongan Province. Image: Daily NK

An increasing number of families are facing starvation as food shortages in North Korea’s agricultural regions continue to worsen, sources in North Korea say. The number of destitute families facing starvation is reportedly on the rise in the provinces of South Pyongan and Jagang.

“People need to be out in the fields farming, but due to a lack of food, many are just at home resting,” said a South Pyongan Province-based source on May 27. “Even the farmers who go out to the fields are often so hungry that they can’t do anything but sit in the shade.”

“In the past, there were very few starving farming families because the state stepped in to help out, but that’s not the case this year,” the source said. “Farmers are having to eat all they grow on their private plots of land and many farming families have gone into debt to buy corn, so only the debt collectors are happy now.”

In the past, starving families were reported in late May or early June, but this year they began appearing in April, the source said. In the past, families starved only after all the seeds were planted in the spring, but a lot of the current cases are due to a lack strength to plant seeds.

“The country’s ‘planting battle’ is going nowhere because everyone is so fatigued,” said the source. “While it’s not as serious as the mass starvation that happened during the Arduous March [in the 1990s], it’s becoming similar.”

Daily NK reported earlier in May, citing another South Pyongan Province-based source, that farmers in Pyongwon, Sukchon, Mundok and other major farm areas on the country’s western coast were concerned about the lack of farming labor. The source told Daily NK at the time that, “People are saying there seem to be a lot of farmers who aren’t in the fields because there’s no food.”

The rise in families going hungry in Jagang Province is due to international sanctions, a source in the region reported, citing the opinion of local residents.

“There’s a ‘vegetable unit’ that deals exclusively with planting vegetables at a local factory, but there are a lot of starving farmers in that team,” he said. “The factory had to stop operating this year due to the sanctions, so vegetable prices weren’t set. People depending on their factory jobs didn’t receive their wages and are now starving.”

He added that “other workers in the factory also didn’t receive their wages so they are essentially living on the streets. No one has disposable income, so the local markets are empty […] Everyone in this area is worried about how to make money.”

International sanctions are cited by many North Koreans as a reason for their economic difficulties.

“The UN’s sanctions are preventing factories from operating and this means that there’s no money flowing into local markets,” said a merchant in one of Jagang Province’s markets. “I’m worried that I’ll have to use all the money I saved up [to survive].”