Education in North Korea
North Korea is a prime example of a hermit kingdom and one of the last remaining communist states. The centralized ideology and oppressive domestic policy closed the society off from the rest of the world, shrouding itself with mystery. How is it possible for the Kim dynasty to maintain its ruling power for so long despite international skepticism? The answer may lie in the careful censorship and indoctrination of the education that shapes the minds of its citizens. Here are the top 10 facts about education in North Korea.

10 Facts About Education in North Korea

  1. Education in North Korea is free and mandatory until the secondary level. North Korea requires students to attend one year of preschool before enrolling in four years of primary school, known as “people’s school.” Depending on their specialties, the students will proceed to either a regular secondary school or a special secondary school from the ages of 10 to 16.
  2. The North Korean education curricula consist of subjects in both academic and political matters. Subjects such as the Korean language, physical education, mathematics and arts make up the majority of instruction in people’s school. North Korea devotes over 8 percent of instruction to the teaching of the “Great Kim Il Sung” and “Communist Morality.” The teaching of these political subjects comprises 5.8 percent of instruction when students get to senior middle schools.
  3. Education in North Korea has claimed the highest literacy rates in the world. There are statistics that claim that all North Koreans over 15 years of age have a 100 percent literacy rate. However, actual statistics might be lower.
  4. Children learn to love and believe in the godlike virtues of the ruling Kim family as early as kindergarten. By the age of 5, North Korean children devote two hours each week to learning about their leaders. By the time they get to secondary school, students spend six classes per week on the subject. The schools and textbooks often tell outlandish stories about the Kim family to deify them. For example, one story tells of how Kim Il-Sung made grenades with pinecones, bullets and sand. Another story tells of how Kim Il-Sung used teleportation when he annihilated the Japanese.
  5. A lot of education in North Korea is propaganda. The system indoctrinates citizens into the system and teaches them to idolize the Kim family as revolutionaries. Distortion of history is another means that the government uses to legitimize the dictatorial regime and accentuate the claims of North Korean greatness. With the careful censorship of outside information, it is not difficult for the regime to change contemporary Korean history or to glorify the Kim family.
  6. Admission to universities is selective and competitive in North Korea. Only students who receive recommendations from their instructors are able to continue their studies at the university level. To receive recommendations, the students must have good senior middle school grades, be from a desirable social class and show high loyalty to the party. Those without recommendations instead go to work in the farms or mines or join the military.
  7. Students start learning foreign languages in secondary school. The most common language is English and then Russian. As the government deems the textbooks from the United Kingdom and Russia as containing too much “dangerous” information, North Korea uses its own textbooks. However, the quality of education is poor as the textbooks have poor writing and include mistakes. Students learn phrases such as “Long live Great Leader Generalissimo Kim Il-sung” before “Hello, how are you?”
  8. Education in North Korea continues even for adults. In rural areas, North Korea organizes people into five-family teams. Schoolteachers or other intellectuals supervise the people for surveillance and educational purposes. Office and factory workers also have to attend study sessions after work each day for two hours. They have to study both technical and political subjects.
  9. North Korea has a special purpose school for children from the elite class and gifted children. Depending on their specialties, children enter one of the four types of schools for special purposes. These include the revolutionary school (also known as the elite school), schools for arts and sports, schools for foreign language and schools for science.
  10. Private tutors or other forms of paying for education in North Korea is technically illegal. The state only trusts itself to properly indoctrinate the young minds into the communist regime. However, since the famine in the 1990s, families have had to provide some type of payment for teachers in order for them to show up to work. This can involve paying money, providing firewood or helping teachers harvest crops. Tutoring has evolved within the grey economy of North Korea as a means for state-school teachers to make ends meet. The regime is willing to turn a blind eye as long as the teachers are not too ostentatious about it.

These top 10 facts about education in North Korea shows the important role of education in indoctrinating citizens and instilling in them unconditional loyalty to the regime. As long as education in North Korea continues to be this way, it is likely that the nation will continue to suffer from the tyranny and suppression from its great leaders.

– Minh-Ha La
Photo: Flickr

Policies of Poverty in North Korea
Few places in the world have aroused as much curiosity and suspicion as North Korea. Known as the “hermit kingdom,” the multiple facets of daily life are secret from the rest of the world, but what is little known about the country paints a very poor economic picture. North Korea’s enigmatic persona on the world stage makes any attempt to uncover its true economic standing rather difficult. This could be due to the fact that the nation has not released any statistics to the global community since the 1960s. Also, while the exact numbers regarding North Korea’s economy and poverty in North Korea are a mystery, there is still quite a bit the world knows about its economic progress (or lack thereof) and how it is affecting the quality of life of its citizens.

Poverty in North Korea

Firstly, many know that along with North Korea’s cult of personality style of governance with Kim Jong-un as its poster boy, it keeps a tight grip on all of the business affairs of the country, resulting in a command economy. As a result, the free market is essentially non-existent with the state determining not only which goods people should produce, but also how and at what price to fix them at. According to the Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU), “the standard of living has deteriorated to extreme levels….” Even citizens, not fortunate enough to be part of the political or social elite, do not receive the basic necessities of health care and food security.

The KINU has even estimated that poverty in North Korea extends to about half of North Korea’s population of 24 million.

North Korea’s ironclad grip on its economic and political structures, coupled with its military-centric ideology, makes for a chaotic mix resulting in a struggling population. Even with modest attempts to modernize—including special economic zones, price liberalization and limited transactions with its South Korean neighbor—North Korea still finds itself focused on military and foreign policy. By doing so, it is absorbing much-needed market capital. Also, while North Korea fears that economic liberalization will lead to political and social liberalization, it is unprepared to take the economic risks that its neighbor and ally China has taken to marry its communist politics with a partially free-market economic approach.

Global Scrutiny and Aid

North Korea has faced increased global scrutiny due to its nuclear weapons ambitions, and this has resulted in not only immense political pressure but also crippling economic sanctions. Even with the post-Soviet push for rapid industrialization, North Korea has shown little economic resilience in the face of global disconnection. This has only exacerbated the ripple effect which inevitably leads to its suffering citizens.

Additionally, while the internal systems of the hermit kingdom were not enough to overcome, North Korea finds itself repeatedly on the receiving end of climate change and natural disasters. With alternating and equally devastating periods of both droughts and floods, paired with a government unable to respond, this only aggregates North Korea’s agricultural problems.

It is even suffering its worst drought in four decades, according to its state-run media. With a majority of North Koreans relying on crops and livestock for survival, and with the intensity of irregular weather on the horizon, the country could soon find itself in dire straits that it will be unable to shield from the global community.

Even with the multitude of economic, social and political problems North Korea has in front of it, there are still signs that the global community is willing to help eliminate poverty in North Korea. With China and South Korea right along its borders, North Korea has seen help in the form of aid. South Korea has pledged $8 million for aid. China has been even more generous. In 2012, China gave 240,074 tons of rice, more than 80 times what Europe gave North Korea that same year. These pledges signal that some are offering help to lessen the burden of poverty and struggle for the citizens of North Korea, but there is still more that others can and should do.

– Connor Dobson
Photo: Flickr

North Korea Health Care
Despite North Korea having universal health care, many of its citizens struggle to obtain basic health care. The health care system has been in a state of crisis since the 1990s, so the little health care that is available goes to high-income Koreans. Here are five facts about health in North Korea.

5 Facts About Health in North Korea

  1. North Korea spent the least on health care in the world in 2019. The total amount of money that the country did use for health care equaled less than $1 USD. The lack of funding makes the quality of health care lower which prompts citizens to bypass doctors altogether and buy medicinal products from markets and self-medicate.
  2. Two out of every five North Koreans suffer undernourishment. Mission East, a Danish NGO, is the only U.N. exception sending agricultural machinery into the country – which the country has banned alongside metal objects. Mission East emerged in 1991 and was finally able to establish a country office in Pyongyang in the summer of 2019. It helps the rural population with food security and health in North Korea.
  3. Out of the 131,000 cases of tuberculosis in North Korea, 16,000 citizens died throughout 2017. Multi-drug resistant strains are becoming more and more common in recent years. The Eugene Bell Foundation has been giving health care aid to North Korea since its beginning in 1995. The Foundation returns to North Korea every six months and has initiated a multi-drug resistant tuberculosis program as well as a tuberculosis care program. The program has cured over 70 percent of the patients in North Korea with multi-drug resistant tuberculosis.
  4. Sixty-one percent of North Koreans have access to safe water. UNICEF in North Korea has implemented a Water, Sanitation and Hygiene program (WASH). NGOs such as the Swiss Humanitarian Aid and World Vision International have received approval from the U.N. to send shipments related to the WASH program into the country. UNICEF works to promote good hygiene, provide technical support and support delivery of supplies.
  5. The infant mortality rate is 33 percent in North Korea. People often neglect children with disabilities and do not report their deaths in most cases, so the number could be up to five times higher than reported. Minimal access to health care, good sanitation and healthy foods play a huge role in the deaths of infants and their mothers. The Korea Foundation for International Healthcare, established in 2006, has partnered with The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health to provide medicine, procedures and surgeries to citizens regardless of gender, ethnicity or religion. Recently, a vaccination campaign has immunized millions of North Korean children.

It is not easy to obtain information on North Korea due to the isolated nature of the country. A lot of organizations have to fight to provide aid to the citizens and the ban on equipment and metal shipments into the country makes it hard to provide proper care to people in the country. Since the country prevents citizens from leaving the country without permission, these organizations are the saving grace for many. Health in North Korea is not as successful as it may seem at first glance, but the recent decisions the U.N. has made leaves room for optimism and change.

Taylor Pittman
Photo: Flickr

North Korean Defectors
Stories of North Korean defection to South Korea are making headlines in recent years. The brutal stories of defection, whether it be running from the guards at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) or escaping capture in transit countries, every North Korean defector has impactful stories of their escape from the hermit kingdom. In 2018 alone, a total of 1,137 North Korean defectors entered South Korea. Eighty-five percent of these defectors were women. These North Korean women are especially vulnerable to human traffickers who aim to sell these women as brides. 

North Korean Defectors’ Arrival in South Korea

The stories of the defectors who succeed in escaping to South Korea do not quite end there. Many defectors who arrive in South Korea face economic, mental and cultural difficulties. While the South Korean government has programs and plans dedicated to helping these defectors, there is still room for improvement.

South Korea’s primary method of assistance includes screening and reeducating North Korean defectors in the Hanawon Resettlement Center. Hanawon’s primary purpose is to educate the defectors about living in capitalist South Korea. Hanawon’s education programs range from everyday activities, such as opening bank accounts or taking the subway, to more practical vocational training.

However, the limited education that the North Korean defectors had in North Korea presents a large knowledge gap in comparison to their South Korean counterparts. Many defectors also say that Hanawon’s programs are not adequate enough to remedy the psychological and physical traumas that many defectors experienced during their escapes. After 12 weeks at Hanawon, defectors can settle into South Korean society. Upon exiting Hanawon, the defectors receive a stipend of around 8 million won, or approximately $6,450 USD, to ease difficulties in resettlement.

Further Improvement Needed in the Resettlement Program

While South Korea is making valiant efforts to curb the challenges of defection, there is potential for improvement. For example, a defector who is a single mother will usually resort to short-term, part-time jobs to support her children.

Defectors face additional difficulties after moving to South Korea. Since Korea’s separation in 1953, both North and South Korea developed a radically different culture and government. For the North Korean defectors, South Korea’s democratic, capitalist society proves to be a great challenge to their resettlement.

The challenge of securing stable employment comes from a variety of factors. If a defector had limited education in North Korea, they are likely to have limited literacy. This not only makes securing employment challenging, but it also makes it harder for them to apply for additional financial aid to the South Korean government.

Discrimination Against North Korean Defectors

South Korean discrimination against defectors further exasperates this particular struggle of securing employment. Son Jung-Hun, a North Koran defector who Vice Media interviewed, shared his challenges when South Korean employers would not hire him after hearing his North Korean accent and seeing his small stature.

In 2019, the death of two North Korean defectors in South Korea made international news. Apartment management staff found Han Song Ok, a 42-year-old North Korean defector, and her 6-year-old son Kim Dong-Jin dead in their Seoul apartment. The coroner’s report suggested that both the mother and the child were dead for at least two months. The investigators found no food in their apartment and Han’s bank account was also completely empty. The coroner found determining the cause of death difficult, although many believe that it is likely they starved to death. Han’s acquaintances told the interviewer that Han had been applying for welfare benefits since the winter of 2018. However, because she could not provide proof of her divorce with her husband in China, the South Korean government continued to refuse her request. 

Clearly, discrimination against defectors is a large factor making it difficult for them to resettle in South Korea. More specifically, many North Korean defectors in South Korea suffer from the feeling of isolation and alienation. For the defectors who left their families in North Korea, the feeling of separation is immense.

The Guardian’s interview with Kim Ryon Hui, a North Korean defector who wishes to return to North Korea, shines a light on the feeling of alienation that many defectors feel in South Korea. Kim told the Guardian that “no matter how affluent you are if you can’t share that with your family, it would be meaningless.” She also added that South Korea considers North Korean defectors second-class citizens, reaffirming the idea of North Korean discrimination.

Poverty in South Korea of North Korean Defectors

Furthermore, North Koreans’ poverty in South Korea is a complicated issue that demands improvements. While organizations such as the Hanawon are assisting the North Korean defectors, it is still not enough. North Korean defectors desire, and need, further assistance and protection from the South Korean government. Considering the journey the North Korean defectors had to take to arrive in South Korea, improving the economic realities for these defectors should be a priority for the South Korean government.

– YongJin Yi
Photo: Flickr

 

Hunger in North Korea

North Korea, one of the most secretive and repressive countries in the world, has faced chronic food shortages since the mid-1990s when hundreds of thousands of people died due to severe famine. The international community responded by providing food assistance until 2009 when aid began to decrease significantly due to North Korea’s policy of “self-reliance.” These 10 facts about hunger in North Korea will reveal how dire the situation is and what government initiatives and NGOs are doing to help.

10 Facts About Hunger in North Korea

  1. North Korea’s climate ranges from temperate, with rainfall during the summer, to long, bitter winters. During the short growing season, drought, heatwaves and flooding have caused crop failure, creating widespread food shortages. North Korea’s total food crop production for 2018-2019 is estimated at 4.9 million metric tons, the lowest since the 2008-2009 season, according to a U.N. food security assessment.
  2. In addition to climate conditions unfavorable for agriculture, North Korea faces a shortage of farming products such as fuel, fertilizer and equipment. This has resulted in low food supply and limited dietary diversity, forcing families to eat less or cut meals.
  3. These unfavorable climatic conditions and the worst harvest in 10 years have resulted in a hunger crisis. More than 10 million North Koreans are suffering from severe food shortages and malnutrition, according to the U.N. This equates to about 40 percent of the total population.
  4. Young children are among the most vulnerable to malnutrition. One in five North Korean children are malnourished and about 20 percent experience stunted growth. Malnutrition, contaminated water and a shortage of drugs and medical supplies are the main causes behind stunting, or a failure to develop physically and cognitively, in North Korean children.
  5. According to Kee Park of the New York Times, sanctions on the capital city Pyongyang contribute to the hunger crisis. Under U.N. resolutions, North Korea is heavily sanctioned because of its nuclear weapons program. Park writes that these sanctions are “punishing the most vulnerable citizens and shackling the ability of humanitarian agencies to deliver aid to them.” Due to sanctions on iron, textiles, seafood, oil and coal, lost income and rising food prices will result in more North Koreans facing hunger.
  6. Despite U.N. sanctions, the U.N. is attempting to raise $111 million for health, water, sanitation and food security needs for 6 million North Koreans. Through donations from Sweden, Switzerland and Canada, about 10 percent has been raised thus far.
  7. The World Food Programme (WFP) has been providing food assistance to North Korea since 1995. Every month, the WFP provides foods fortified with protein, vitamins and minerals, such as cereals and biscuits, to around one million children, pregnant women and nursing mothers, all of whom are the most vulnerable to malnutrition.
  8. In 2018, UNICEF screened 90 percent of North Korean children for malnutrition and identified cases were later treated. Vitamin A supplements were provided to more than 1.5 million children and micronutrient tablets were distributed to more than 28,000 pregnant women.
  9. First Steps is a Vancouver-based nonprofit organization that is implementing innovative solutions for fighting hunger in North Korea, such as its Sprinkles program. The program’s aim is to prevent child malnutrition by delivering micronutrient powder to children, pregnant women and nursing mothers. The powder is packaged in sachets and then added to food. According to First Steps, Sprinkles is a proven and cost-efficient method of preventing and fighting vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
  10. These various forms of assistance have made significant progress in reducing levels of child malnutrition. The percent of children suffering from stunted growth has dropped notably from 28 percent in 2012 to 19 percent in 2017.

Although there has been recent progress, immense humanitarian challenges remain. Despite the fact that vast amounts of North Korean citizens are without basic necessities, the government has declined offers to renounce their nuclear weapons program in exchange for assistance. These 10 facts about hunger in North Korea reveal why a strengthened approach to solving food insecurity is required.

Adam Bentz
Photo: Flickr

 

10 Facts about North Korean Labor Exporting

North Korea, or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), is the most isolated and closed-off country to the rest of the international community. One of North Korea’s primary sources of foreign income is through their labor exportation. The U.S. Department of State estimates that 100,000 North Korean workers are working as the overseas labor exports of the North Korean government. It is also estimated that the North Korean export laborers generate $1.2 – $2.3 billion for the North Korean government. Here are 10 facts about North Koran labor exporting.

10 Facts about North Korean Labor Exporting

  1. North Korea’s isolated and closed economy is the source of its poor economy and labor export. North Korea’s economy is directly controlled and dictated by its government. The country’s estimated GDP in 2015 was $40 billion, compared to its neighbor South Korea’s $1.383 trillion. Because of the government’s heavy spending on the development of its military and nuclear arsenals, industries dedicated to civilian consumption are severely underfunded. The CIA’s 2019 profile of North Korea highlights the country’s shortage of fuel, arable land, poor soil quality and agricultural machinery. It also points out North Korea’s problem with human trafficking and forced labor.
  2. China and Russia are the primary importers of North Korean labor. Because of the country’s
    macroeconomic conditions and geographical proximity, the North Korean government has sustained economic ties with both the Russian and the Chinese government. According to a 2018 C4ADS report, there were approximately 30,000 DPRK nationals working in Russia. Some organizations also estimated that there were approximately 94,200 DPRK workers in China as of 2015. C4ADS is a nonprofit organization that provides data-driven analysis reports on global conflict and transnational security issues.
  3. North Korean labor exporting is not limited to manual labor. Historically, especially in for the male laborers in Russia, North Korean laborers worked in Russia’s Siberian timber industries. The majority of the female North Korean laborers worked in different North Korean themed restaurants and hotels in Russia and China. A recent investigation done by C4ADS, there is evidence of North Korean agents selling facial recognition software and battlefield radio systems to military organizations and police forces around the world. Many of these sellers when tracked by their IP addresses, seem to be based in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Some police forces around the world, such U.K.’s police force, may unknowingly purchase advanced software products from organizations run by the North Korean agents.
  4. The Russian government claims that Russia’s employment of North Korean laborers is not contradicting any of the U.N. sections against DPRK. In 2017, the U.N. Resolution 2397 stated
    that all North Korean workers in foreign countries must be sent back to DPRK by December of 2019. The sanction also limited the DPRK’s import of petroleum to 500,000 barrels. Some claim that the Russian government’s employment of the North Korean workers and petroleum export to the DPRK is a form of foreign aid. CNN interviewed Alexander Gabuev, chair of the Russia in the Asia-Pacific Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center. Gabuev claimed that the Russian government’s aid to the North Korean government is a way of not “squeezing” the already desperate North Korean regime too hard.
  5. There is evidence of North Korean workers employed in Europe working in inhumane conditions. In March of 2019, the Worldcrunch investigation interviewed a North Korean worker who claimed that he was sent to the shipyard in Gdynia, Poland by the order of the North Korean regime. Working for a ship part manufacturing company named Crist, the North Korean worker told his story of the inhumane working conditions to which many North Korean workers are subjected. In one account, the worker told the story of Chon Kyongsu, who burned to death at the shipyard because he didn’t have a fireproof protective suit.
  6. Some exported North Korean workers sometimes defect from their workplaces. In April 2016, 13 North Korean restaurant workers from China defected to South Korea. A debate on whether this defection was out of their own free will or a cleverly planned trick by the restaurant manager to have the workers defect is still going on. These 13 defectors were the highlights of many news networks around the globe. Mr. Pak, a North Korean defector who was interviewed by the NK News, is among many other North Korean oversea laborers who defected from their workplace in Russia, China and the Middle East.
  7. Overseas labor is viewed as a privilege by many North Korean citizens. Mr. Pak was sent to Kuwait as a construction laborer by his government. Pak gives a detailed account of how he was selected as an oversea laborer. He met the North Korean regime’s criteria of becoming an oversea laborer by being a party member, married with children, having technical skills and having no previous access to classified information. However, Pak still had to bribe his examiner to have his certification approved.
  8. Many North Korean defectors struggle to adjust to the country of their defection. Even after defecting, the lives of the North Korean defectors don’t get easier. Post Magazine’s 2018 article gives a detailed story of two North Korean sisters living in South Korea after their defection. So Won, one of the sisters, described the cultural differences and prejudices she felt in South Korea. Small differences such as her fashion sense and having a North Korean accent to big issues such as the South Korean people’s prejudice against North Korean defectors made it hard to assimilate. Workers who defect to China risk the danger of getting arrested by the Chinese officials and get sent back to North Korea. If sent back, the consequence of which will be either execution or forced labor in a labor camp.
  9. There are many organizations that serve as Underground Railroad for many North Koreans. Organizations, such as Liberty In North Korea, rescue North Korean defectors by providing them with basic needs, transportations, accommodations and rescue fees for the staff and the partners of the underground railroad. According to the organization’s website, Liberty In North Korea’s rescue program managed to help 1,000 North Koreans in escaping the North Korean regime. Other underground organizations, whose volunteers are South Koreans, run safe houses and create many routes to smuggle North Korean defectors and foreign laborers out of North Korea and other countries.
  10. The South Korean government is taking measures to ensure the safety of the North Korean defectors. Many North Korean defectors go to China, Russia and countries in Southeast Asia before making their way to South Korea. While many neutral countries, mainly in Southeast Asia, serve as a brief respite in their journey to freedom, other countries such as China actively arrest North Korean defectors to deport them back to North Korea. This is because the Chinese government doesn’t view North Korean defectors as refugees. They are viewed as illegal economic migrants. South Korea’s Ministry of Unification, along with many other NGOs throughout the world, works to not only ensure the safety of North Korean defectors but also provide financial support for their resettlement in South Korea. The Ministry of Unification also didn’t completely disclose their methods for the sake of the safety of North Korean defectors.

North Korean foreign laborers face many hardships and dangers. Not only are they economically exploited but they are also suffering under the North Korean regime’s oppression of their rights and freedom. These 10 facts about North Korean labor exporting show that North Korea’s illicit means of sustaining their economy puts many North Korean families in danger of exploitation, human trafficking and violence. While this might look bleak, there are many people and organizations that are bringing the strife of North Koreans to the attention of the global community. They remind the world of how important it is to recognize the strife of people around the globe and do a small part to aid them.

YongJin Yi
Photo: Flickr

Famine in North Korea

North Korea is known as one of the world’s most economically isolated countries. According to the CIA’s World Factbook, North Korea’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was only $40 billion in 2015North Korea also has an extremely negative track record of famine. The 1990s famine in North Korea is estimated to have killed between up to 1 million people from 1995 to 2000.

How Did North Korea Get to This Point?

After the conclusion of World War II, Korea was split between the Soviet Union and the United States along parallel 38. In 1950, the Korean War began after communist North Korea invaded democratic South Korea. The war went on until 1953 and ended in a stalemate. Ever since the Korean War, North and South Korea have been divided at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), and the two countries have still not signed an official peace agreement to date.

North Korea’s communist regime has committed numerous human rights violations and threatened the United States, Japan and South Korea with a war on a frequent basis. As a result, the United Nations and the United States have placed significant sanctions on North Korea that have seriously reduced economic growth in the country. In fact, North Korea’s economic situation is so poor that many experts believe that, without China as North Korea’s major ally and trading partner, the country would not be able to sustain itself.

There have been past attempts to negotiate with North Korea, particularly regarding their nuclear weapons program. In June 2018, President Trump became the first United States President to meet with North Korea’s tyrannical regime, headed by Kim Jong Un. While President Trump is attempting to negotiate with North Korea, there has not been any significant progress made so far regarding diplomacy. However, President Trump temporarily succeeded in stopping Kim Jung Un from testing ballistic missiles (as many as 12 tests were conducted in 2019) and was also able to negotiate bringing home the remains of 55 American soldiers who died during the Korean War.

Why Does North Korea Have Problems With Famine?

Since North Korea’s annual GDP is low, monetary resources are tight. Unfortunately, the Regime uses nearly 25 percent of its GDP towards military funding. It does not invest as much in basic services such as healthcare, clean water, roads and food. On top of that, North Korea is a rather small country with nearly 24 million people. Its land area is estimated to be the size of Mississippi. Most of the northern areas are mountainous, which makes agriculture very difficult.

The devastating 1990s famine in North Korea was caused by a variety of factors. Besides the major problems discussed above, an excess of floods brought on by El Nino in 1995 and 1996 caused devastation in North Korea. This devastated crops and destroyed already limited farmland. As grain resources decreased, the government reduced the supply to its people in order to preserve food resources for itself and the military.

Are Conditions in North Korea Improving?

Conditions in North Korea are very difficult to gauge because the country is extremely selective regarding who is allowed in and out of the country. Therefore, data is limited. However, most experts agree that famine in North Korea has not improved very much. While North Korea’s GDP is slowly growing at approximately 4 percent, there were still 1,137 defectors in 2018. Twenty percent of North Korea’s children are thought to be stunted, and 40 percent of North Korean residents are malnourished. All of these factors are signs that conditions are still poor throughout the country.

On a positive note, domestic agriculture has improved greatly. Grain production has almost doubled from the 1990s to about 5 million tons per year. Humanitarian aid to North Korea is now supplying nearly 30 percent of the country’s food supply. In 2016, the United Nations spent at least $8 million in foreign aid to help reduce malnutrition. In the meantime, North Korea’s upper class, which largely consists of government officials and military generals, has plentiful access to food. This is largely because they all live in North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang. Unfortunately, smuggled photos out of North Korea show small villages with residents starving, and in extreme cases, eating grass.

Nearly half of North Korea’s population still lives in poverty. Human rights violations are common, and the military is considered a priority over infrastructure and agricultural production. Until North Korea develops normalized relations with the rest of the world and commits more resources to its people, it is highly doubtful that any major breakthrough against famine or poverty will be possible.

Kyle Arendas
Photo: Pixabay

South Korea AidNorth and South Korea have been separated since the end of World War II when the Soviet Union took control of the northern half of the peninsula and the United States took over the South. The two halves of Korea have been at war with each other since.

North Korea has since become a nation of poverty. The greatest threats to North Korea are its water pollution, waterborne diseases, deforestation, soil erosion and degradation. In 2017, one in five North Koreans did not have access to clean water and 41 percent of people were undernourished. Since the country’s poverty level has been increasing, North Korea has been reliant on international aid. Recently, South Korea has announced it will be sending $8 million in food aid to North Korea.

The good news about South Korea’s $8 million aid is that it expected to begin reducing tension between the opposing governments while reducing poverty levels in the North. North Korea previously chose not to accept aid from the South. The Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-un, is now open to receiving the aid due to the current harvest being the worst in the past decade and the current drought problem, which is currently the worst it has been in over three decades.

Expected Benefits

  • Decrease in Poverty LevelsFood aid will help the 40 percent of North Koreans that are suffering from severe food shortages. It will also provide access to clean water and reduce the number of people affected by waterborne diseases.
  • Vaccines and Medicine Will Also Be Provided – South Korea’s $8 million aid will also include $3.5 million in vaccines and medicine. This secondary aid is supplying treatments for malnutrition in children and pregnant women. It will also include other medicines for the population.
  • Tensions Between the North and South Should Improve – Despite tensions between the North and South, South Korea is still willing to give aid to the North regardless of the political situation between the two halves. This aid is letting the North know that South Korea is not willing to let those in need suffer.

Taking a Stand

Tensions between North and South Korea have been high since the end of World War II. In a press release, the South Korea Unification Ministry made it clear to the public that its tension with North Korea was not a reason to deny the country humanitarian aid. South Korea’s aid will begin to lessen those tensions. It will also provide food and medical aid to the suffering population and begin to reduce the poverty levels.

Most countries have been hesitant to send international aid to North Korea due to their involvement in missile and nuclear weapons developments. South Korea is taking a stand and using compassion to state that political issues do not affect the fact that almost half of the North Korean population is starving and in need of help.

Chelsea Wolfe
Photo: Pixabay

Agriculture in North Korea
A massive famine struck North Korea in the 1990s with a death toll of more than one million. While grain production has nearly doubled since the famine, many agricultural scientists and international humanitarian aid liaisons believe it is not enough to sustain the nation. According to the World Health Organization, two out of every five North Koreans were undernourished in 2017 and 28 percent of North Korean children are stunted in growth due to a “largely irreversible outcome of inadequate nutrition and repeated bouts of infection during the first 1,000 days of their life.”

After Kim Jong Un took power in 2011, the government is more willing to admit its administrative shortcomings in perpetuating food insecurity across the country. In 2018, Former Premier Pak Pong Ju, a member of the ruling Korean Worker’s Party and longtime member of the political elite hierarchy, admitted an agricultural crisis had formed a chokehold on the North Korean economy. In a report, he mentioned that “Some have failed to conduct seed production and management in a responsible way and also fell short of doing proper strain distribution in line with climatic conditions and characteristics of fields.” With lower food production, many locals are going hungry and the poorest are affected the most.

North Korea has many tactics underway in order to improve agricultural conditions in their nation. Here are three strategies for improving agriculture in North Korea.

  1. A 5-Year Strategy – North Korea’s 5-year strategy for improving agricultural development is already underway. The plan includes increasing fruit, vegetable and mushroom cultivation along with improving domestic animal breeds. Furthermore, North Korea plans to upgrade fishing boats and farm equipment in order to use modern scientific methods. As 2018 came to an end, North Korea has already improved plant species with high-yield, created agricultural machinery and scientific farming, increased greenhouse farming production and increased livestock and development of fish aquaculture. They are also in the second stage of constructing the South Hwanghae Province waterway.
  2. Juche Farming Method –  The Juche Farming Method uses the nation’s government style ideals to give farmers a plot of land and a house to live in on collective farms in exchange for the food they produce. Additionally, in just six months after the method was implemented, 650 greenhouses were built across the country allowing for four to five harvests a year. Without greenhouses, locals say the soil is too salty and not sufficient enough for growing crops. Salt increases the acidity in plants which results in poor harvests.
  3. International Aid – International Aid can improve agricultural development in North Korea significantly. The American Friends Service Committee’s Publication and Advocacy Coordinator, Daniel Jasper, says his organization is working on multiple techniques to improve North Korea’s agriculture. For example, one of the organization’s projects is rice cultivation and the introduction of plastic trays. The project has been very successful, raising yields 15 to 20 percent in some farms. North Korea is also interested in joining institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). These institutions would allow North Korea to gain additional international aid.

Agriculture in North Korea has greatly improved since the famine in the 1990s, but the nation’s mountainous geography still makes farming difficult. With 11 million North Koreans malnourished, it is vital that the nation continues to correct the problems within its agricultural industry.

– Maura Byrne

Photo: Unsplash

life expectancy North Korea

Korea was divided into the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the north and the Republic of Korea in the south due to opposing political ideologies. Before the 1990s, the World Bank estimated that the life expectancy of North Korea was similar to that of South Korea. Men were expected to live to 65.9 years, and women 73 years. Here are 10 facts about life expectancy in North Korea that will list what factors have had the largest impact on the growth or decline or this rate.

10 Facts About Life Expectancy in North Korea

  1. The 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union in Russia led to an economic decline that ultimately decreased North Korea’s life expectancy. This decline was the direct cause of the mid-1990s famine in North Korea, which caused a mortality crisis that lowered its life expectancy by 5.6 years in men and 4.7 years in women.
  2. Though North Korea shares a similar issue with South Korea regarding mortality rates among small children and adults older than 55, the famine-affected North Korea more heavily, leading to a gap between the two countries of 11.14 years among men and 9.90 years among women by the year 2008.
  3. Currently, North Korean men are expected to live to 68.2 years and female life expectancy is 75.5 years. This places the country as 103 on the ranking of life expectancy rates. Unlike several countries in the top 10, North Korea’s national leading cause of death is not suicide, but rather stroke. This is also different from its leading cause for the life expectancy gap between North and South Korea, which is infant mortality.
  4. South Koreans may live longer, but North Koreans have more babies. For the past decade, South Korea has struggled to boost its birth rate, hitting an all-time low in 2017 with only 1.05 births per woman. In comparison, North Korea had a birth rate of 1.91.
  5. Food shortages were thought to be the primary reason why North Koreans also fell behind South Koreans in terms of height, with an average difference of 3-8 cm. Some originally thought that this difference was the result of genetics, but Professor Daniel Schwekendiek from Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul rejected this claim. Additionally, Schewekendiek disproved the theory that North Korean refugees are shorter as a result of poverty. The height difference can provide some insight into the correlation between a person’s height and their life expectancy.
  6. North Korea has directed the majority of its funds to its military. An estimated 25 percent of the nation’s GFP is going into these programs. A major cause of young men leaving the workplace is that most take part in some form of military training. As a result, although 40 percent of its population currently lives below the poverty line, North Korea has the world’s fourth-largest army.
  7. North Korea ranks pretty low among countries in terms of carbon emissions. In 2013, North Koreans kept their emissions to 63.8 metric tons while South Koreans put out more than 10 times as much with 673.5 metric tons. This gap has been one of the most significant factors of North Korea’s recent rise in life expectancy. While there are still debates about a nation’s level of carbon emissions and its overall effect on the world, a lot of studies have proven that there is a relationship between carbon emissions, life expectancy and income.
  8. North Koreans struggle with poverty. Citizens of nations with low carbon emissions are predicted to be unable to achieve higher levels of income. This is because these low-emission nations tend to have a stronger focus on exporting goods in order to keep its economy afloat. While these low carbon emissions provide a healthier territorial range for its citizens, without a moderately sufficient and independent economy, the majority of North Koreans still remain in lower-income levels of poverty.
  9. North Koreans have attempted to redirect their focus to their country’s nutrition and health problems. The government has taken steps to increase the number of young children receiving Vitamin A supplements in order to combat the effects of North Korea’s many food shortages. The World Health Organization encouraged the consumption of Vitamin A in 2000. Additionally, North Korea has mandated that nutrition be a part of medical curricula.
  10. In the past, North Korea has prided itself on being a self-reliant country. However, this attitude has been theorized to be the primary cause of the nation’s chronic food shortages since the nation was reluctant to request international food aid. However, after the North Korea’s 2008 population census revealed its significantly poor health conditions, North Korea began a collaboration with the World Health Organization Centre for Primary Health Care Development to improve the nation’s poor health situation.

North Korea’s reclusive and secretive nature means that there is still a lot that remains unknown. However, these 10 facts about life expectancy in North Korea provide some insight into what areas may need more attention from the country’s government and international human rights organizations.

Jordan Melinda Washington
Photo: Unsplash