Facts about famine in North Korea
North Korea is one of the most mysterious and reclusive countries in the world. It is well known for its repressive government and the abhorrent living conditions its citizens endure. Nowhere is this suffering more apparent than in the facts about famine in North Korea, which has further repressed the country’s citizens and fueled Kim Jong Un’s pursuit of a dangerous nuclear program. These 10 facts about famine in North Korea show just how brutal life in the country really is.

10 Facts About Famine in North Korea

  1. Numbers Are Scarce
    Although the Food Security and Information Network (FSIN) acknowledged a major famine in North Korea in its 2017 report, the group also noted that statistics showing the scale of the famine are hard to find due to the repressive nature of the Kim regime as well as its efforts to convey the illusion of prosperity.
  2. The Problem Requires External Assistance
    FSIN also noted that North Korea needs foreign assistance to recover from the famine. Given the country’s poor economy, it will be difficult if not impossible for the country to recover on its own.
  3. But External Assistance Is Unlikely
    However, due to rising tensions between the United States, the United Nations and North Korea over the development of nuclear weapons, tighter economic sanctions have been placed on the country, further weakening its economy and deepening the current famine. If any country were to grant economic support to North Korea, it would face an immense backlash from both the U.S. and the U.N.
  4. The Famine Is Significant
    According to a 2017 report by the United Nations, which made estimates based on satellite images and economic data, roughly two out of five citizens are malnourished. It has identified more than 13 million North Koreans in need of economic assistance who are likely struggling to survive in the current conditions.
  5. The Kim Regime Is Focused on Military Development Instead
    Due to fears of a regime change by the United States military, Kim Jong Un has largely focused the scarce resources of North Korea on the development of conventional and nuclear weaponry. This furthers the problem, as the regime has largely ignored the plight of its own people.
  6. Economic Reforms Have Largely Failed
    According to an op-ed by Roberta Cohen for Brookings, economic reforms put in place by the late Supreme Leader Kim Jong Il and current leader Kim Jong Un have failed to revitalize the North Korean economy, including its faltering agricultural industry, leading to a continuation of the famine. This has led Kim Jong Un to dedicate even more resources to military development and repression of citizens to avoid a revolt should the population grow more dissatisfied with his leadership.
  7. Weather and Geography Are Also to Blame
    The weather and geography of North Korea contribute to the famine. North Korea is sandwiched between several other countries, and has a climate that is generally not conducive to agriculture. This could be addressed by importing goods, but due to current global conflicts, there are strict sanctions on the nation.
  8. The Famine Is Behind the Repression of North Korean Citizens
    Many have wondered why the Kim regime is so focused on the creation of a totalitarian state unforgiving of criticism and driven to propaganda. Yet, should the regime abandon this set of ideals, the public would quickly turn on the government for malnourishing them and not promoting change. It is easier for Kim to tighten his political grip and shift blame to the United States than acknowledge his failure to supply his own citizens with basic needs.
  9. Sanctions Have Contributed to the Famine
    Though the United States government places most of the blame for North Korea’s poor living conditions on the Kim regime, according to the New York Times, the strict sanctions it has imposed in recent years have further contributed to the nation’s economic downfall. Though an argument could be made that sanctions are necessary to stop the development of nuclear weapons, it would be wrong to deny their role in the famine crisis.
  10. The Current Famine Could Get Worse
    The citizens of North Korea are often regarded as a brainwashed mass, but they possess the same basic needs as any people. Their suffering has been accelerated by the famine, and should the United States and North Korea become involved in a second war, the situation could devolve into a severe humanitarian crisis. Even disregarding the loss of life from direct military conflict, the chaos caused by war would further disrupt agriculture, cripple the already poor North Korean economy and lead to a refugee crisis that could claim hundreds of thousands of lives.

These 10 facts about famine in North Korea show the brutal underbelly of life in North Korea and a major humanitarian crisis in the making, a reality that is often overlooked in our haste to parody a struggling and repressed nation.

– Shane Summers

Photo: Flickr

Crisis in YemenThere is currently a devastating humanitarian crisis in Yemen. Many factors are intensifying the suffering being experienced by the Arab world’s poorest nation. The civil war is going on its third year and created conditions for famine, disease and terrorism to flourish. A variety of people and organizations are helping Yemenis in need, yet, it will be a long path to stability.

In September 2014, a group of Yemeni rebels, supported by Iran, overthrew Yemen’s government. In March 2015, Saudi Arabia supplied military forces to reinstate the government, with help from the U.S. The country remains in a civil war.

At least 10,000 people were killed, and two million people were displaced as a result of the war. Those evading conflict are who suffer most. The civil war led to famine, the collapse of Yemen’s healthcare system and a cholera outbreak.

Currently, almost half of Yemenis are food-insecure. Almost 2.2 million children are malnourished, 462,000 of whom have severe acute malnutrition. Furthermore, the cholera outbreak which impacted more than 300,000 people.

The civil war made these issues worse because it caused the healthcare system in Yemen to collapse. Poverty also exacerbates the crisis. Many Yemenis lost all their wealth because of the conflict. They are forced to work more and cannot take time off to stay with sick family in the hospital, nor can they necessarily afford travel expenses and treatment. Furthermore, the malnourishment experienced by a generation of children may set the stage for another impoverished generation in Yemen.

Fortunately, some are stepping in to help. U.S. Senator Todd Young (R-IN), is pleading for a policy of aiding the country. He wrote a resolution that addressed the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, Nigeria, South Sudan and Somalia. He is also asking the U.S. to reprimand its ally Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is blamed for much of the suffering in the civil war. For instance, the country bombed cranes which were used to deliver food and medical aid. Saudi Arabia then proceeded to block the delivery of new cranes.

However, the new Saudi prince Mohammed bin Salman recently allocated $66.7 million to the WHO and UNICEF to fight the cholera epidemic. While bin Salman was defense minister, he oversaw the bombing of Yemen. It is unclear if the donation is personally from bin Salman, or from the government budget.

Many other governments are also addressing the crisis in Yemen. Through USAID, President Donald Trump offered $192 million for Yemen. This will add to the $275.2 million the U.S. already gave for Yemeni assistance in 2017. The European Union is also funding humanitarian aid in Yemen. Since 2015, the European Commission gave approximately $199.5 million to help with malnutrition, water sanitation, healthcare, homelessness and more.

The WHO and UNICEF, Oxfam, Save the Children and Doctors Without Borders are among the organizations contending with the crisis in Yemen. Oxfam has been in Yemen for 30 years, building better infrastructure and working towards women’s rights and ending poverty. Save the Children has worked in Yemen since 1963 and fights for children’s rights by offering education, healthcare and food. Doctors Without Borders offers free healthcare and is working hard to alleviate the cholera epidemic.

Life has been shattered in Yemen. One of the poorest countries in the world is being made worse by civil war. Much of the world understands, that as fellow humans, it is our obligation to help end the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. This ideal must spread and continue.

Mary Katherine Crowley

Most people know that education is the key to ending global poverty. If the next generation of leaders, entrepreneurs, teachers and parents are better educated, they will be more equipped to improve their conditions.

Books for Africa is an organization that is working to accomplish that goal today. Its message is clearly stated on its website: “education is the great equalizer in the world, and books are at the foundation of a strong educational system.”

This inspiring organization controls all aspects of giving books to children in Africa; it collects donated books, sorts them, ships them, and distributes them to the children.

Since Books for Africa’s founding in 1988, they have shipped more than 38 million books to 49 different African countries. These are huge numbers that are making great strides for children’s education in Africa.

The Board of Directors has a multitude of factors that must work for the operation to be successful: do they have enough donations to send, will they have enough money to send the shipment, did they pick an African community that will actually use the books?

According to Publishers Weekly, “It costs $10,300 on average to ship each container by sea to Africa from the U.S.” With this expense, it is imperative for people to continue donating their books, time and money. Books for Africa is sure that its cause is making a difference.

Studies done by the World Bank, various researchers and Books for Africa have concluded that providing even one textbook can increase literacy rates by five to 20 percent.

One program focused on promoting education, Learn NC, concluded that reading a book does so much more than merely pronouncing the written words. Reading can spark discussion, promote engagement with others, transform the reader’s mind and inspire the reader to act.

Books for Africa promotes that a “gift of books truly is a gift of hope.” Ending global poverty can happen one book at a time.

Sydney Missigman

Photo: Flickr

According to the United Nations, the world is undergoing the biggest humanitarian crisis since the end of World War II. Currently, South Sudan resides in the middle of a massive famine that affects 10,000 people. Forty percent of the people in South Sudan struggle with food, agriculture and nutrition assistance. Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen declared famine warnings, and malnutrition puts 1.4 million children at risk of death in Nigeria, South Sudan and Yemen. Furthermore, seven million people risk starvation in Nigeria.

The following are 10 facts about famine and its consequences.

  1. A famine is a condition of extreme starvation of food. Famines are caused by natural disasters like droughts, floods, earthquakes, insect plagues and plant diseases. Manmade causes, such as wars, civil disturbances, sieges and crop destruction can also lead to famines. Famines cause significant and prolonged hunger to a country’s population which results in malnutrition and death by starvation and disease.
  2. Famines are declared when:
    • 20 percent of the households in the area face extreme food shortage with limited ability to cope.
    • Acute malnutrition rates exceed by 30 percent.
    • Death rate exceeds two persons per day per 10,000 persons.
  3. Famines evolve slowly and may remain underreported for extended periods of time before they become massive famines. Families have experienced months of crippling hardship before a crisis makes a headline.
  4. Overpopulation is not a cause of famine. The English philosopher Thomas Malthus created this myth in his 1798 essay, in which he argued that population levels outpace available resources. Famines now grip lightly populated areas like Somalia and South Sudan.
  5. Violence and conflict serve as major sources of famines. Other countries cut South Sudan off of supply routes, causing food prices to increase and aid delivery to be hampered. The civil war in South Sudan led to widespread hunger, with half of the nation’s harvests getting destroyed, food deliveries blocked and workers attacked.
  6. Hunger is only one part of famines. Famines can damage future generations, as malnutrition in infants can lead to the suffering of poor health and stunted development.
  7. Famines can drive violence, as global threats of terrorism and political or economic instability grow out of poverty. The famine-affected areas undergo conflict, which leads to displacement and loss of livelihood. Lack of opportunity can lead to choosing terrorism as a way of life.
  8. The 21st century brought massive progress. Until the middle of the 20th century, massive famines could kill millions of people within a decade. The adoption of human rights and globalization has made it difficult to turn a blind eye on people dying of hunger.
  9. A massive famine hit Somalia between 2010 and 2012. Two hundred and sixty thousand people died.
  10. The United Nations needs 2.5 billion to respond to the famine crisis in the Horn of Africa. The agency fundraised 62 percent of this goal.

Famines and hunger are not inevitable and are often human-made. Thus, they can be human-solved. Action must be taken to improve the rights of millions of children and families around the world.

Aishwarya Bansal

Photo: Flickr

Famine in Somalia

Famine is looming in Somalia and intergovernmental organizations are preparing to respond. According to the World Food Programme of the United Nations (U.N.), about half of Somalia’s population is affected by the drought and a quarter of the population needs urgent assistance.

Somalia has faced a drought since August 2015. The U.N. announced a risk of near-future famine in Somalia in early February. The U.N. appealed for 864 million dollars to help more than three million people in Somalia, and the U.N. Food Programme has a 26 million dollar plan to respond to the drought. Currently, the World Food Programme offers rapid emergency response, nutritional meals and vocational training, among other crucial services to Somalia.

The U.N. is not the only major non-governmental organization concerned about the possibility of famine. The European Commission’s Joint Research Centre and the Famine Early Warning Systems Network created a report with the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and the U.N. Food Programme to express risk of famine.

This is not the first time that Somalia has faced famine. When the country had a famine from 2011 to mid-2012, more than 250,000 people died. This famine resulted from a drought that began in October 2010. Philippe Lazzarini, the U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, said that more could have been done sooner to prevent these deaths. By the time the U.N. declared a famine based on the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, many people had already died.

In addition to the famine in Somalia, there are also looming famines in South Sudan, Nigeria and Yemen. There are more than 20 million people affected by food insecurity in all of these countries combined. The U.N. needs 4.4 billion dollars by March to address the problem and the World Food Program needs 1.2 billion dollars of those funds to aid these four countries for the next five months.

Early intervention is necessary to avert the famine in Somalia and in nearby countries.

Jennifer Taggart

Photo: Flickr

Water Quality in Ethiopia
Erratic rainfall negatively affects the water quality in Ethiopia and can cause famine and food shortage. In addition, war diverts resources that could be used for clean water projects.

Essential for survival, water is something most people can access very easily. The number of people in Ethiopia with access to clean water has doubled, from 29 percent in 2000 to 59 percent in 2015. Yet 41 percent of the population lacks adequate access to safe water.

Ethiopia has endured four severe droughts since 1974 and is currently facing the worst drought it has seen in 50 years. The water crisis can be attributed not only to severe drought but also to lack of government funding and infrastructure.

Best-selling author and YouTuber John Green went to Ethiopia with Bill Gates. “When I asked people about their greatest needs, almost all of them–from the Women’s Health Army volunteers to children–cited clean water first.”

Women spend hours every day carrying 50-pound cans filled with clean water for their families. Because of the distance that many women must travel to get clean water, families often utilize any water they have access to, regardless of its safety.

One method of improving water quality in Ethiopia is to implement rainwater harvesting techniques. Rainwater harvesting initiatives have helped those facing drought in India, China and Mexico and could be the answer to improving water quality in Ethiopia on a widespread basis. Rainwater harvesting helps people provide themselves with clean water from a reliable source that can last through even the driest seasons.

When asked about rainwater harvesting by the BBC, Dennis Garrity of the World Agroforestry Centre said, “Ethiopia, often regarded as a dry country, could collect enough for half a billion people…The time has come to realize the great potential for greatly enhancing drinking water supplies…by harvesting more of the rain when and where it falls.”

In a study assessing the impact of rainwater harvesting systems in the Abreha Weatsbeha watershed, the community utilized sustainable land management methods such as integrated soil and water conservation practices. Farmers learned to use conservation structures and vegetation in the upper part of watersheds to contribute to the amount of groundwater discharged in the lower part of the catchment.

The groundwater table is now only three meters beneath the surface, even in the driest season (it was previously 15 meters underground). Farmers now have their own shallow irrigation wells and the community has 388 hand-dug wells. The people in Abreha Weatsbeha call these groundwater ponds their “water bank.” Thanks to the “water banks” rainwater harvesting systems create, quality of life and water in Ethiopia can greatly improve.

Mary Barringer

The difference between drought and famine has the potential to be very confusing. Both result in an insufficient supply of food and water along with the wide and rapid spread of disease. Potentially both disasters could lead to the economic and social collapse of the community. However, the truth about both disasters is quite simple.

In the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, drought is defined as a period of dryness, especially when prolonged. Likewise, famine is defined as an extreme scarcity of food. While famine can sometimes be the outcome of a drought, it is considered to be more of a manmade disaster, therefore more preventable, and results from the lack of availability of food and water. A drought is solely the result of finicky Mother Nature and almost entirely unpreventable. In both cases, if aid is not immediately offered to the affected people, starvation, rampant disease, economic and social collapse and death will take its toll.

Here are eight quick facts that define these disasters in order to keep them straight.



  • The most common form of drought is a lack of water vapor in the atmosphere, which causes precipitation. A lack of moisture in the air causes wildfires that can damage communities and food supplies, ruin forests, or harm people and animals.
  • Of all the water on earth, only .003 percent is available fresh water that is not polluted, trapped in soil, or too far underground. During a drought, shared sources of water such as rivers, reservoirs, and groundwater for wells are in jeopardy of running dry.
  • Since the 1970s, the percentage of Earth’s surface affected by drought has doubled. Global warming is largely blamed.
  • Meteorologists predict drought based on precipitation patterns, stream flow, and moisture of soil over long periods of time.



  • Famines rarely happen because of a single event and often are the result of many years of struggling to grow food in a harsh environment.
  • Famine doesn’t usually cause the deaths of whole communities. Instead, it’s often old people and the youth who suffer from disease and malnutrition as they are the most vulnerable.
  • Different factors can trigger famine – the choice of crops planted, ineffective farming techniques, political systems and civil wars.
  • Famine happens when people don’t have the ability to cope during extreme natural conditions like drought.

-Kira Maixner
Source: Do Something, Merriam Webster Online
Photo: Asia News

Famine in YemenOngoing conflict has created an imminent threat of famine in Yemen. According to the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP), ten of Yemen’s 22 provinces ranked at “emergency” level – one step below famine.

According to the BBC, in September 2014, years of civil and sectarian strife reached a climax in Yemen. Houthi rebel forces took control of Yemen’s capital, Sana’a.

Last year, a coalition of Arab states led by Saudi Arabia began a military campaign to force the Houthis from power and reinstate President Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

The ensuing chaos has enabled extremist groups, including al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, to infiltrate the country and carry out terrorist attacks.

Long-Standing Food Insecurity
Even before the fighting began, the country was importing over 90 percent of its food. Now, conflict has strained trade and access to goods.

According to the Business Insider, aid groups blame the current food crisis on a lack of access to Houthi-controlled ports caused by obstacles imposed by the Saudi-led coalition. Houthi forces have also been accused of intentionally disrupting supplies from reaching some communities.

The U.N. estimates that 19 million people lack access to clean water and 7.6 million are considered to be food insecure. The looming development of famine in Yemen threatens to increase these numbers.

Fighting Malnutrition 

Malnutrition has made children in particular more vulnerable to illness. Before the conflict, about 40,000 children under age five died from preventable diseases each year, UNICEF reports. However, the organization estimates that 10,000 more have succumbed to disease in the past year because of a lack of access to clean water, health care and acute malnutrition.

In spite of these figures, the U.N. reports that it has been able to provide aid in most areas of the country. Food and millions of vaccinations have been administered but according to the U.N., this has only addressed the “most urgent needs.”

New Voucher Program

Earlier this month, the WFP began distributing vouchers to assist people living in Sana’a. The program is expected to reach 1 million people across the country by the end of 2016 by increasing the speed of delivery for assistance to families as well as by focusing on accountability.

WFP Representative Purnima Kashyap stated, “Vouchers also boost the local economy as we work with local suppliers to provide food.” Each voucher provides a family of six with a month’s supply of wheat grain, vegetable oil, salt and sugar, as well as protein-rich Wheat Soya Blend.

The WFP is partnered with 13 other organizations in Yemen, including CARE International and Save the Children. CARE International has not only focused on providing food security but also in establishing community self-help and women’s empowerment. Save the Children has additionally advocated for the care and protection of children, mainly through education efforts.

UNICEF’s representative in Yemen, Julien Harneis, says the organization has appealed for $180 million to finance its programs in Yemen in 2016. So far UNICEF has received just 18 percent of that amount. As the U.N. pushes for another round of peace negotiations, additional attention and aid are required to prevent famine in Yemen and assist the estimated 80 percent of people in need of humanitarian aid.

Taylor Resteghini

Photo: Flickr

United Nations Humanitarian Chief, Stephen O’Brien, called a meeting of multiple U.N. agencies in July to discuss immediate action regarding deteriorating humanitarian conditions within the conflict-ravaged nation of Yemen, as fears of widespread famine within the country continue to grow.

Officials agreed to raise the caution of humanitarian emergency in Yemen to Level Three, the highest humanitarian crisis level within the United Nations, after the World Health Organization (WHO) provided updated statistics regarding the severity of conditions within the Arab world’s most impoverished country.

The WHO recently announced that an estimated 21.1 million Yemenis currently require significant humanitarian aid, with an additional 13 million people faced with a food security crisis and 9.4 million people exercising limited to no access to basic water resources.

Health officials have stressed the adverse effects these conditions will have on the national population, as inadequate access to these essential resources will increase the risk of water-borne diseases, such as cholera, and the persistence of widespread malnourishment.

In addition to Yemen, the United Nations has placed the nations of Iraq, Syria and South Sudan at Level Three of humanitarian emergency in recent months due to consistently escalating conflicts within these regions. The U.N. Humanitarian Office states that declaring a top-level humanitarian emergency allows for the mobilization of extended aid funding and an organization-wide deployment of staffing personnel.

A U.N. official familiar with agency operations within Yemen stated after this summer’s emergency meeting that an additional 11.7 million citizens will be targeted for humanitarian assistance provided by additional resources mobilized by the Level Three declaration.

Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the U.N. envoy for Yemen, stated last week in a press release that Yemen is, “One step away from famine,” after noting that only two million Yemeni citizens were in need of humanitarian assistance two years ago.

Houthi Shiite rebels and military forces allied with former President Ali Abduallah seized Sana’a, the capital of Yemen, in September and have been conducting military operations against Sunni militants, local separatists and tribal militias allied with current President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. President Hadi was forced to flee to Saudi Arabia after the invasion of Sana’a by Houthi forces last year

A military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and backed by the United States has been conducting airstrikes within Yemen against Houthi rebel forces since March. The conflict has resulted in 3,083 fatalities and 14,324 casualties since its onset last year according to the most recent estimates of the WHO.

Ahmed also urged all contingents within the regional conflict that erupted earlier this year to participate in a humanitarian ceasefire during the month-long celebration of the Muslim holiday Ramadan in order to ease the delivery of humanitarian aid resources.

The U.N. envoy to Yemen outlined multiple solutions to the conflict which included, “The need for a ceasefire, an orderly withdrawal of Houthi forces from cities, monitoring and verification mechanisms, an agreement to respect international humanitarian law and not to hinder the deployment of humanitarian aid operations; and a commitment to engage in talks mediated by the United Nations.”

James Thornton

Sources: Big Story, Middle East Monitor
Photo: The Telegraph


All over the world, where storms, violence and famine attract attention, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, or PDA, is quietly working to ease the suffering and provide for the needs of survivors.

The Rev. Laurie Kraus has been the Coordinator of PDA since 2012 and first became involved in the church’s relief organization back in 1992, when Hurricane Andrew swept through her home state of Florida. For Rev. Kraus, the issues that disaster relief victims face hit home.

“My work in natural and human caused disaster as a responder, trainer and practical theologian has challenged, changed and transformed my understanding of ministry and of the Church,” Kraus said.

Based in Louisville, Kentucky, PDA is a ministry of the Presbyterian (U.S.A) one of the most prominent Protestant denominations in the U.S. The organization has been involved in domestic aid work, caring for the displaced in natural disaster areas from Hurricane Katrina to Superstorm Sandy. For all the care that PDA gives to people in need on U.S. soil, their international work is most notable. The organization is currently active in disaster relief and humanitarian causes in every inhabitable continent except South America and Australia.

Cultivating partnerships on the ground, PDA is currently responding to displaced flood victims in Malawi, where floods have devastated up to 250,000 people, according to the latest reports. Joining together with the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian, PDA is providing safe water, flour and other essentials, while paying specific attention to the most vulnerable among the victims.

Responding to the vast amount of displaced persons in Ukraine as violence has spread over the nation, PDA is partnering with the Russian Orthodox Church and Hungarian Interchurch Aid to provide blankets, food and hygiene supplies to refugees.

In the Middle East, PDA has aid projects active in Syria, helping people escape violence and treating the wounded. The displaced in Iraq are receiving bedding, fuel and help gaining employment. In Gaza, PDA is providing pychosocial care and economic support. And in Afghanistan, everything from pillows to mobile hospitals is being provided by the PDA.

Typhoons and earthquakes have kept teams busy in the Philippines and in China, where shelter, debris removal, sanitation and livelihood restoration efforts are in full-force.

The relief efforts of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, while they may not attract much attention, are felt by the people who need them the most.

– Casey Hobbs

Sources: Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, The Guardian, NPR
Photo: Flickr