North Korea is a closed-off nation pretending to be its own island with the most militarized border in the world, even with the conflicts in Ukraine and Israel. It can be easy to overlook North Korea as a threat due to its failed aspirations to become a nuclear power and its political bluster on the international stage. However, North Korea has significant internal problems, none as severe as its domestic poverty. This article will examine the complex issue of poverty in North Korea, including its causes, effects on the populace and current initiatives to deal with it.
The Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has not published economic information, so researchers must find creative ways to understand the nation. New technology allows estimations of GDP and poverty based on night light using satellite imagery. Estimates of poverty in North Korea average around 60%.
Various factors, primarily internal and some external, contribute to North Korea’s poverty. One of the leading causes is the Kim dynasty’s communist government, which prioritizes military spending over the good of its people. This emphasis on preserving power by cloaking North Korea and building military might have resulted in a severely underdeveloped economy dependent on Chinese support for electricity, water and other crucial resources.
Additionally, North Korea’s economy has been further weakened by international sanctions, with countries like the U.S., denying its people to trade with North Korea. However, this does not have a significant impact anyway, as there is little chance of trade entering the country. Everything must pass through the government’s bureaucracy before it is legally permitted to operate, which makes it difficult to provide humanitarian aid or goods and services to those most affected. Even when given the go-ahead to trade, spying will still occur with systems like Red-Star, which takes regular and random screenshots of text messages and recordings of phone calls.
However, this government is not the one that is most impacted by the policies it employs. Most of the challenging circumstances provided by the state affect North Korea’s population alone. There is a great deal of suffering due to widespread malnutrition, a lack of access to health care and inadequate (above-ground) infrastructure that is not used for military purposes. Chronic food shortages are a harsh reality for many North Koreans who struggle to provide for their families. According to the UN, a startling 40% of the world’s population is malnourished.
Being malnourished does not just mean they’re starving; it also means their immune system is failing, putting them at risk of death. Of course, the bourgeoisie may eat as much as they like, which gave birth to the insult ‘Kim Fatty III’, now banned in China — another communist regime but with a more liberal approach to the economy.
Furthermore, it is difficult for aid groups to function effectively in North Korea due to the regime’s secrecy and state mandates. The efforts to lessen its citizens’ suffering are hampered by this lack of transparency and micromanagement from the dictatorship: Everything you do must be approved by the state.
Organizations Making a Difference
Despite the difficulties, a few organizations are making a valiant effort to combat poverty in North Korea. The Eugene Bell Foundation is one such group that focuses on helping North Koreans in need of medical care and tuberculosis treatment. Due to the critically underdeveloped above-ground infrastructure, North Korea has one of the highest tuberculosis rates in the world. The Eugene Bell Foundation has significantly improved the nation’s health care outcomes. The Foundation has reduced the chances of dying from the disease by providing treatment to anywhere from 500–1,500 patients per year, a number that would be much higher if the North Korean Government would be honest about how serious the problem is.
Another example is the World Food Program (WFP), which sees that 18% of all children in North Korea are stunned (cannot grow due to malnourishment). The WFP’s efforts are vital in alleviating hunger and malnutrition in the country, albeit under challenging circumstances. They have heroically provided monthly nutrition packages specialized for protein, vitamins and fats to around a million children, pregnant women and nursing mothers.
Undoubtedly, the path ahead will be challenging, as political unrest and diplomatic challenges continue to impede humanitarian efforts in North Korea. These organizations continue to be dedicated to their goals and work to improve the lives of those affected by tyrannous government and poverty. All of this is in stark contrast to the open market representative democracy to its south: South Korea, which is richer, more advanced and the top destination for North Koreans seeking to escape.
To conclude, North Korea’s poverty is a pervasive issue with multiple root causes. The suffering of the North Korean people is a result of the oppressive regime and a lack of transparency as well as international sanctions. However, organizations like the World Food Program and the Eugene Bell Foundation are working nonstop to deliver critical assistance to the most vulnerable.
It is important to remember the millions of North Koreans who continue to live in poverty and squalor on the Korean Peninsula. The issue of North Korea’s poverty goes beyond geopolitics and touches on fundamental human rights and dignity. The international community must continue to be dedicated to identifying solutions and helping those in need.
– Sean Boehm