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Growing crisis in North Korea induced by food shortage

Posted September. 02, 2023 08:10,   

Updated September. 02, 2023 08:10


North Korea has long grappled with food shortages, but the situation appears unusually dire. Typically, food scarcity in a region is assessed through meal skipping, but in chronically underfed North Korea, the severity of the shortage is measured by the number of starvation-related deaths.

South Korea's National Intelligence Service (NIS) reports that between January and July 2023, approximately 240 people in North Korea died from starvation, marking a 2.2-fold increase compared to the five-year average of around 110 during the same period. Even North Korean soldiers, usually at the top of the food rationing list, now receive only 580 grams of grains daily per person, down from the previous 620 grams. The two families who defected to South Korea by boat in May 2023 may have risked their lives to escape starvation.

Food scarcity, an imminent life-and-death crisis, can impact every facet of one's existence. The South Korean government is particularly concerned about its connection to rising crime rates in North Korea. Senior officials in the South emphasize that individuals pushed to extreme desperation can resort to severe crimes, with nothing more desperate than the struggle to avoid starvation.

The correlation is unmistakable in North Korea, where violent crimes are surging. According to the NIS, serious crimes have tripled in the first half of 2023 compared to the same period in previous years. These crimes include large-scale organized incidents like homemade bomb attacks to steal daily supplies and even recent indications of attempted terrorist bombings. Insiders familiar with the realities in North Korea report incidents akin to terrorism based on local residents' testimonies, including screams. While some may be accidental due to negligence, the sources do not dismiss the possibility that they could be deliberate terrorism targeting leadership, including high-ranking military officials.

The South Korean government has established contingency plans for a severe potential crisis in the North, regularly conducting simulation scenario tests and annual plan updates. However, discussions and concerns regarding fundamental changes in the North have diminished over the years, possibly due to the regime's decade-long stability, indicating a reduced likelihood of radical shifts or imminent instability.

Pandemic-driven border closures may have worsened North Korea's food shortage and could trigger a series of dissident terrorism, creating a new situation for the South. The likelihood of significant systemic change in North Korea has increased. South Korea should thoroughly review and update its military and civilian response plans, preparing for scenarios such as mass defections from the North and intervention attempts by neighboring nations.