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

 Homelessness in South Korea
It is easy to dismiss homelessness in South Korea, as the nation ranks as one of the top 20 economies in the world. High-tech society can overshadow the unfortunate reality that many of the homeless face in South Korea. In 2017, the South Korean government estimated that there were more than 11,000 homeless people in South Korea. This is not a surprise to many South Korean. When walking in Seoul for an extended amount of time, it is common to come across the homeless.

Factors that Contribute to Homelessness

  1. Housing Index: While homelessness in Seoul has dropped significantly, from 4,505 people in 2014 to 3,478 in 2018, there is still a sizable homeless population in Seoul. A variety of factors contribute to homelessness in South Korea. The rapid rise in housing prices all around the country is making owning a home more difficult for many Koreans. The housing index, a trend of average housing prices across the country, in South Korea is on a constant rise. The housing index rose from 33.60 points in 1987 to 100.20 points in 2019. This lack of affordable housing is one of the factors that contributes to homelessness in South Korea.
  2. Financial Bankruptcy: Financial bankruptcy is another leading cause of homelessness in South Korea. According to a study by the Seoul Metropolitan Government, 24 percent of the homeless lost their homes due to snowballing debts. The study stated that the average age of homeless people in South Korea is in their mid-50s.
  3. Alcoholism: For the homeless who suffer from alcoholism, receiving support can be especially difficult. Mr. Lee, a homeless in Seoul who was interviewed by South China Morning Post, testified to this issue. Since many homeless shelters have a zero-tolerance policy toward alcohol, many of the homeless elect to live on the streets. When questioned about why he left the homeless shelter, Mr. Lee said, “I used to receive support from organizations, but I stopped going to these centers because there was no freedom there.” This further reflects the prevalence of alcoholism among the homeless in South Korea.

Government Efforts to Reduce Homelessness

The South Korean government is making positive steps toward reducing homelessness in South Korea. In Seoul, the homelessness problem is still easy to spot; however, the homeless population is in a steady decline. A 2017 assessment by the Seoul government found that there had been a 30 percent decrease in the homeless population in Seoul since 2010.

South Korea’s commitment to supporting the homeless is also very public. With the election of President Moon Jae In, the Ministry of Welfare announced an expansion to assisting the homeless. The South Korean government pledged to increase the supply of housing for the homeless, creating jobs and providing job training programs for the homeless.

Currently, the city of Seoul is running an outreach program. Simin Chatdongi or “People Visiting Their Neighbors” is a program that encourages citizens to alert the authorities about their neighbors who might be on the verge of becoming homeless. Citizens who want to participate can sign up for the outreach program online or visiting a program booth at a residents’ assembly or neighborhood festival. As of Dec. 2019, the program gathered 8,563 reports.

 

Homelessness in South Korea is caused by many factors, including the housing index, financial bankruptcy and alcoholism. However, the South Korean government’s commitment to helping its less-fortunate populace leaves a silver lining to this otherwise bleak reality. Many in South Korea look forward to the positive changes that are to come for the homeless.

YongJin Yi
Photo: Flickr

Income Inequality in South Korea
As South Korean film “Parasite” celebrates an Oscar win, the conversation about income inequality in the nation is appearing in public discourse again. The film’s portrayal of the income gap between South Korea’s poor and rich portrayed a bleak picture. Income inequality in South Korea is most apparent in the nation’s education system and affordable housing. South Korea recently elected President Moon Jae-in in 2017, whose platform promised to reduce the income gap in South Korea. As a result, citizens are more conscious about income inequality than they have ever been. What is the reality of income inequality in South Korea? What are some of the solutions experts suggest will alleviate this issue?

The Economy

The society and economy in South Korea function on a winner-takes-all mentality. Some studies indicate that South Korea has one of the fastest-growing income gaps. The nation’s P90/P10 ratio, which compares the income of those in the top 10 percent to the income of the remaining 90 percent, indicates an interesting trend. While the overall P90/P10 ratio shows that income inequality in South Korea has improved since 2011, the curve rose between 2015 and 2017. Further, in 2017 the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) ranked South Korea 32nd based on the P90/P10 ratio.

The Education System

One can see an aspect of income inequality in South Korea in its education system. According to the OECD, nearly 70 percent of South Koreans, aged 25 to 34, completed some form of tertiary education. Comparatively, the United States’ tertiary education attainment rate of 49.4 percent makes it clear that South Korean culture puts a tremendous emphasis on college education. Ironically, this demand for higher education has significantly lessened the value of the degree. This decline of value in college degrees has resulted in students competing aggressively to gain acceptance to the three most prestigious universities in Seoul.

Subsequently, to assure children’s competence in the ever more competitive academic scene, many parents send students to “Hagwon,” or private after-school education institutions. In 2017, for example, reports suggested that 83 percent of 5-year-olds in South Korea were studying in these private institutions.

In addition, estimates determine that South Korean parents spend over $15 billion on private education annually. In only a single year, from 2016 to 2017, South Korean spending on private education rose 5.9 percent. Education in South Korea is becoming more burdensome for Korean parents who are not as financially well-off because, in the case of illegal private tutoring, one institution charged up to $8,000.

The Housing Market

Individuals who live in semi-basement homes also reflect income inequality in South Korea. As of 2015, over 360,000 households have a semi-basement floor-plan. The conditions in these semi-basement homes include lack of sunlight, the prevalence of critters and moldy smell due to homes’ high humidity. As a result, these residences became the stock image of housing for the poor. In Seoul, the country’s capital, the rising housing costs in South Korea are impacting these semi-basement homes.

According to the Korea Appraisal Board, the average apartment price in Seoul surpassed 500 million won (about $413,541), meaning that buyers need at least 300 million won (about $248,125) in order to even consider a purchase. This seemingly continuing rise in housing prices is making it harder for the average person to maintain responsibility for an apartment.

The Government’s Reaction

The government’s response to income inequality in South Korea takes the form of restructured tax policies. Since the 2017 election of President Moon Jae-in, the Korean government is working to expand the country’s elderly welfare and unemployment benefits. In this pursuit, the current administration imposed stiff tax hikes in 2017 which targeted leading corporate conglomerates, investors and high-income individuals. Estimates determine that this newly imposed tax plan will raise approximately $3.14 billion to support welfare programs. Many Koreans hope that this newly gained revenue will improve the circumstances for the ever-aging population of South Korea. In addition to increasing taxes for high-income South Koreans, the current administration has also increased the minimum wage.

However, there are concerns over how effective these new policies might be. For example, some reports suggest that the administration’s increase in minimum wage throughout the country might backfire. In response to the rising minimum wage, many small and medium-sized businesses simply cut back the hours that workers can to work.

Income inequality in South Korea is a complicated issue. The portrayal of families living in semi-basement homes paints a dismal picture of the middle to lower class. The ever-rising housing and education costs limit the accessibility of these resources for many South Koreans. The government’s effort to close the income gap in South Korea does not seem to be entirely effective either. However, it is significant that the South Korean government is taking active measures against income inequality. While there are plenty of issues to tackle, many South Korean citizens hope that the current administration’s efforts will result in a future with more equal opportunities and financial success.

YongJin Yi
Photo: Flickr

History of Poverty in South Korea
While K-Pop and Korean culture has appeared in mainstream media, the looming presence of poverty in South Korea has not. According to the World Bank’s 2018 GDP rankings, the Republic of Korea stands as the world’s 12th largest economy, making it understandable that poverty in South Korea is not making global headlines. For the people of South Korea, a country roughly the size of the state of Illinois, this economic achievement is a massive source of national pride. As the “miracle of the Han River,” South Korea’s economic transformation from 1961 to 1997 strengthened the narrative of South Korea as an Asian economic powerhouse. Here is some information about the history of poverty in South Korea.

History of the Korean Economy

Poverty in South Korea has always held a place in history. Korea received liberation from the Japanese empire’s 35-year colonial rule in 1945. When the Korean War broke out in 1950, the Korean economy was largely agrarian. By the time the War concluded in 1953, an estimated 5 million people died. Among the 5 million dead, half of the casualties were civilians and the nation’s economy suffered equal devastation. By the conclusion of the Korean War in 1953, the GDP of South Korea was only $40.9 million. In comparison, South Korea’s GDP in 2015 was $1,485 trillion.

Economic Growth Igniting in the 1960s

Korean historians note the 1960s as a time of rapid economic growth in South Korea. Initially, the South Korean economy still depended largely upon foreign aid, although South Korea went through rapid industrialization under President Park Jeong Hee, an army general who seized government control in 1961. The major challenge facing President Park Jeong Hee was the lack of natural and raw resources after the war. Most of the natural resources in the Korean peninsula were in North Korea; therefore, South Korea had limited products for export. In 1964, the South Korean government hatched a plan to start the export of wigs. South Korean women began selling hair to wig factories and by 1970, wigs accounted for 9.3 percent of South Korea’s overall exports.

Japanese Manufacturing to South Korea

In conjunction, many Japanese textile and electronics companies began moving labor-intensive assembly plants to South Korea. As companies hired Koreans as plant employees, they gained knowledge which eventually aided in the start of Korean owned electronics corporations. Further, the South Korean government aided in funding business conglomerates, such as Samsung and LG, by providing substantial subsidies and loans. Despite this profound economic growth, poverty in South Korea was still present from the Korean War.

The poverty-stricken Korean assembly workers made the miracle of the Han River possible. During South Korea’s rapid growth, the government’s focus on cheap exports resulted in the repression of workers’ rights. For example, competing within the international market, Korean chaebols maintained a low labor cost, resulting in underpaid workers. Additionally, it was common for manufacturing workers to work 10-hour days for every day of the week. Employers and the government often ignored safety regulations and concerns too. President Park Jeong Hee outlawed unionization, making it impossible for workers to fight for rights.

In a Washington Post 1977 report, the reality of Korean workers during the 1970s was clear. William Chapman shadowed a Korean woman, Miss Lee, and found, “[that] while Korea has gleaming new factories and a growing middle class, it remains a land of miserable poverty and Dickensian wage and employment conditions for the working class.” Chapman reports abuse such as low daily wage, long working hours and lack of workers’ bargaining powers. Chapman’s work reflected terrible working conditions and those implications on poverty in South Korea.

South Korean Poverty Today

While poverty rates have significantly decreased since the 1970s, poverty in South Korea is still present. Today, two major groups experience poverty in South Korea: the non-regular workers and the elderly.

The term non-regular workers refers to the fixed-term, part-time and dispatched workers who constitute one-third of employees in South Korea. In addition to a lack of job security, non-regular workers typically earn one-third less than regular workers. This income inequality is titled market dualism. Because of the income gap, non-regular workers have less access to insurance and company-based benefits.

Many of the South Korean elderlies also live in poverty. Because of their high seniority-based wages and dated industry knowledge, most workers must leave their companies at around age 50. In 2017, the unemployment rate for the 55 to 64 age group was 67.5 percent, which is above the OECD average of 59.2 percent. Those who are employed usually find themselves in temporary employment with low wages. While South Korea has a national pension service, the recent rise in the elderly population is putting a strain on the system.

The history of poverty in South Korea comes from the country’s war-torn society. The rapid economic growth during the 1960s and the 1970s came at the cost of workers’ rights and exploitation, and ultimately, the poor in South Korea. In 2020, South Korea still struggles to make equitable working conditions for the elderly and non-regular workers.

– YongJin Yi
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

 

Jeju Island Carbon-Free
At the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, the government of South Korea announced that it will launch a clean-energy project aimed at making Jeju Island carbon-free by 2030.  This government’s project falls under its greater 2030 initiative to reduce South Korea’s greenhouse gas emissions by 37 percent.

According to a 2019 study, South Korea is the seventh-largest greenhouse gas emitter and eighth-largest energy consumer in the world. The government developed grids during the second Jeju Project and is using them to determine the technology it requires to sustain the 2030 project to reduce its greenhouse emissions.

The First Jeju Project

The government launched the first Jeju Project in 2009. The project’s mission was to implement smart grids on Jeju Island to test the technologies necessary to aid new renewable energy sources. The project tested technology for renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power and electric vehicle charging stations. The government worked with 168 private companies and spent a combined total of $208 million to cover 6,000 homes in this project. Through building smart grids in Jeju, both the government and private companies worked to do the following:

 1.  Create a foundation for efficient energy consumption.

 2. Create the structure for an expansive distribution of electric vehicles.

 3. Manage clean energy.

 4. Provide new electricity services.

Utility services’ participants that utilized the smart grid could routinely check for and avoid residents who over-consume electricity. That way, they could utilize the system to optimize efficient electricity consumption on the island.

By utilizing smart grid technology, the South Korean government tackles its 2030 project to make Jeju Island carbon-free in the following three phases: transforming Gapa Island into a carbon-free model for Jeju Island, increasing Jeju’s renewable energy shares by 50 percent by 2020 and making Jeju a carbon-free island by 2030.

Second Jeju Project Set to Make Island Carbon-Free by 2030

In the long-term effort to make Jeju Island carbon-free, government municipalities implemented smart grids and renewable energy on Gapa Island as a pilot test. They installed two wind-power generators and solar panels for 49 of 97 homes. Moreover, they provided both electric vehicles and home energy management services for every home to preserve energy.

As estimated in future projections, Korea’s government will easily increase Jeju’s renewable energy shares by 50 percent in 2020. As estimated in the 2019 COE report, wind and solar power can provide around 6,561 gigawatt-hours of electricity on Jeju’s Island. In addition, Jeju Island residents collectively consume less electricity than these renewable energy sources can provide. Therefore, Jeju residents already have a surplus of renewable energy. By the year 2020, both the government and local investors will install “one gigawatt offshore wind power, 350 megawatts inland wind power and 30 megawatts solar power.” These will account for about 68 percent of Jeju’s total electricity demand of 5,268 gigawatt-hours.

Island Residents Experience Renewable Energy Surplus

Through launching smart grids on Jeju Island and increasing Jeju’s smart grids and renewable energy share, the South Korean government looks toward making Jeju Island carbon-free. The government plans to increase offshore wind power and electric vehicle use from 852 to 377,000. It will also implement 225,000 chargers on the island to meet this goal.

After the government implemented smart grids and renewable energy on Gapa Island for a Jeju Island pilot test, Gapa Island residents experienced a surplus of renewable energy. The two wind turbines implemented on the island generate around 500 kWh and the 49 solar panels produce 174 kWh. Since Gapa residents use around 230 kWh, the leftover energy keeps in an energy storage system (ESS) for later use.

Setting a blueprint, Gapa Island’s micro-grid pilot became an example for Jeju Island. With a successful sustainability track record on Gapa Island, the South Korean government looks toward making Jeju Island carbon-free and setting a clean energy blueprint for the world to follow.

Niyat Ogbazghi
Photo: Flickr

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

Food Shortages in North Korea

Currently, food shortages in North Korea are severe. Over the last year, serious droughts, low crop yield and economic sanctions have pushed hunger levels in North Korea to crisis levels. The UN recently estimated that approximately 10 million North Koreans are in urgent need of food aid.

Last month, South Korea pledged to aid in reducing these food shortages, through a donation of 50,000 tons of rice and 4.5 million dollars to the World Food Programme. Once the World Food Programme can guarantee high standards of access and monitoring for this donation, they will oversee its delivery and distribution in North Korea.

Food Shortages in North Korea

Several factors have contributed to the severe food scarcity in North Korea, according to a UN report from May 2019. Conditions over the past year have been terrible for crop production. Prolonged dry spells, serious droughts, flooding and high temperatures prevented crops from growing normally. On top of this, UN experts expect post-harvest losses to be high as well. This is due to shortages of fuel and electricity. This will complicate the transport and storage of crops.

At the beginning of this year, food rations in North Korea fell to a mere 300 grams per person per day. The UN predicts these rations may fall even further in the coming months. The decreasing size of rations is important since the majority of North Koreans require these rations. The UN report estimates that 40 percent of North Koreans are in urgent need of food, while 70 percent of North Koreans depend on rations.

North Korea hasn’t experienced food scarcity of this magnitude, since a nationwide famine in the 1990s. While there is no definitive data for the 1990s famine, experts believe it caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of North Koreans. These food shortages could cause similar fatalities if food aid isn’t provided quickly.

South Korea’s Food Donation

On June 19, the World Food Programme officially accepted the donation from the Republic of Korea. South Korea has pledged 4.5 million dollars, as well as a direct donation of 50,000 tons of rice. These donations will help approximately 1.5 to 2 million children, pregnant women and nursing mothers.

This donation represents South Korea’s largest donation to food aid in North Korea since 2008. That donation was when South Korea contributed 5,000 tons of rice to relieve food scarcities in North Korea. South Korea’s unification minister, Kim Yeon-Chul, stressed that the South Korean government couldn’t ignore the struggles of its northern neighbor. For South Korea, this donation represents a step forward in the relationship between the two countries.

Looking Forward

Despite the monumental donation from South Korea, the World Food Programme estimates food shortages in North Korea will require more aid. It estimates a need of approximately 300,000 metric tons of food and the equivalent of 275 million dollars of supplies. Though UN sanctions do not limit humanitarian aid to North Korea, the international political situation has made it difficult to reliably distribute aid in the area. However, South Korea’s government believes its donation will cross the border. Overall, the country hopes it will bolster efforts towards reconciliation on the Korean peninsula.

– Morgan Harden
Photo: Flickr

Education in South Korea

South Korea has long led the pack in terms of academic benchmarks. However, when addressing academic performance, analysts explain that emphasis should be placed on the achievements of individual students rather than giving credit to a loosely-defined education system that valorizes bureaucracy rather than pupils. In the end, South Korean scholars practice extreme self-discipline and must cope with acute stress to maximize their academic performance and to carry South Korea to the forefront of global education rankings. These eight facts about education in South Korea catch a glimpse into the life of students and the rigorous curriculum.

8 Facts about Education in South Korea

  1. Schooling is compulsory in South Korea until the age of 15. Pupils begin their education at 6-years-old when they attend primary school. When they reach 12-years-old, they transition to a lower secondary school for three years. At 15-years-old, South Korean students decide to continue their education by completing an entrance exam and committing to an Academic Senior Secondary School or a Vocational Senior Secondary School.
  2. In 2012, South Korea offered free half-day kindergartens for children of ages 3-5. Parents also have the option of enrolling their children in tuition-based private preschools, although the former option is becoming more popular. At a rate surpassing 90 percent, enrollment in early childhood education is very high compared to the rest of the world.
  3. Before attending a university, South Korean students enrolled in secondary school must take the suneung, the extremely rigorous and fateful college entrance exam that largely governs one’s future. On the day of the suneung, flight paths are diverted around testing centers to prevent test-takers from losing focus on the exam. Months, and even years leading up to the suneung, parents will enroll their children in weekend and after-school test preparatory academies called hagwons. These are notoriously referred to as cram houses.
  4. Discipline serves as the bedrock of education in South Korea. Students are obliged to rise and bow when their teachers enter the classroom, and South Koreans generally tend to have enormous respect for their mentors. Along with principal subjects such as science, mathematics and language, civil morality is a central pillar manifested in curricula throughout the entirety of compulsory schooling.
  5. A strongly-rooted cultural emphasis on discipline becomes blurred with the stress epidemic. The typical school day in South Korea begins at 8 a.m. and ends around 5 p.m., and following a short break at home, many students return to school libraries or hagwons to study into the later hours of the evening, sometimes even until midnight.  The stresses of attaining educational achievement sometimes reap fatal outcomes; in South Korea, suicide is the leading cause of death among teenagers.
  6. South Korean students consistently perform among the best in the world, according to statistics of standardized test scores and college drop-out rates. Although the South Korean education system placed third in the world during the first quarter of 2019, it was ranked as the best in the world for four consecutive years from 2013-2017.
  7. Alongside learning subjects such as basic Korean language and mathematics, students in grades one and two take subjects that reaffirm South Korean values that emphasize happiness and discipline, such as “Good Life,” “Happy Life” and “Wise Life.”
  8. Following major reforms beginning in 1995, education in South Korea has been transitioning from focusing on optimizing standardized test results and cramming students for college entrance exams to implementing a new curriculum that incorporates the humanities and realities of a globalized world. Class lectures emphasize community and global citizenry, and teachers underscore the importance of learning about new cultures and foreign intellect.

These eight facts about education in South Korea show mixed results for students. South Korean students have incredible performance rates, yet they are also susceptible to high stress-induced suicide rates. It is worth taking a critical look at their curriculum to better understand what works and what doesn’t.

– Grayson Cox
Photo: Flickr

Seoul, South Korea

Since the Korean War, South Korea has emerged as one of the more politically and economically free nations in the world. Home to companies like Samsung and Hyundai, South Korea’s economy has been growing for years. While South Korea has become a model for other countries in southeastern Asia, the country is also facing new challenges that a strong economy alone cannot fix. Here is a list of the top 10 facts about living conditions in South Korea.

Top 10 Facts about Living Conditions in South Korea

  1. Life Expectancy: The life expectancy rate is one of the highest in the world. South Koreans, on average, have a life expectancy range that goes into the mid-80s for men and into the 90s for women. This means the country has one of the highest life expectancies in the world, a benefit to having free, universal healthcare coverage. Koreans’ diets consist of steam-cooked rice, vegetables and meat, constituting a healthy meal and contributing to a long and healthy life.
  2. Credit Access: South Korea is among the world’s top countries with high credit card usage. South Koreans averaged almost 130 credit card transactions per person in 2011, according to the Bank of Korea. Additionally, it is illegal for businesses to refuse credit cards, even for smaller purchases. This has created a bustling tourism and shopping industry in South Korea.
  3. High Suicide Rate: The suicide rate in South Korea is among the highest in the world. It is believed that the high suicide rate is due to the long work hours and stress in the workplace. Another factor contributing to these high rates is the level of poverty and loneliness among the elderly. The country has taken preventative measures to combat such a tragic statistic. Korean legislature continues to update and improve the Mental Health Act. The Act for the Prevention of Suicide and the Creation of Culture of Respect for Life went into effect in 2011, which sets forth policies to help prevent suicides.
  4. Youth Unemployment: The country’s economy is strong, but it is slowly declining. With such large companies like Samsung, LG and Hyundai in South Korea, many smaller businesses are having trouble cementing themselves into Korean society. These larger companies then offer less than ideal contracts to smaller companies who must accept them or risk going out of business. This is disabling young people’s ability to find jobs with a smaller market of opportunities. More than 11 percent of young people between the ages of 15 and 29 are unable to find jobs. President Moon Jae-in promises to combat the unemployment of young people during his presidency.
  5. Universal Healthcare: South Korea has adopted an affordable, universal healthcare system. It was first introduced in 1989. As mentioned above, this may be a key factor in the increase in life expectancy in South Korea. The country also created plans to help its citizens treat certain forms of dementia. It is projected that the percentage of South Koreans age 65 or older will increase to 40 percent by the year 2060.
  6. Plans to Boost the Economy: South Korea has decreased its infrastructure spending, but is increasing its minimum wage. President Moon has planned to drastically increase South Korea’s spending budget by around $420 billion in 2019. The goal is to increase the number of jobs available and to raise the minimum wage; however, these programs will also create budget cuts for infrastructure spending.
  7. Climate Change: The country is taking action on climate change. In an effort to learn more about climate change, the Korean National Institute of Environmental Research began working with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and other organizations in 2016. These organizations have been focusing on monitoring air quality throughout East Asia. Citizens of South Korea are affected by smog and concentrations of particulate matter that lead to respiratory illnesses. South Korean air is twice as polluted as some other countries.
  8. Low Violence Rates: South Korea has low rates of terrorism and violence. South Koreans have great respect for the rule of law, according to data from the World Bank. Citizens also have a great deal of respect for the courts and rules of society. It is possible that the impeachment of former President Park Geun-Hye in 2017 also increased confidence in the South Korean legal system.
  9. Expensive Housing: The already expensive housing prices in South Korea are increasing even more. The nation’s capital, Seoul, is the most expensive city to live in South Korea. It’s twice as expensive to live there than anywhere else in the country. During the past year, housing prices have risen 23 percent in Seoul and 12.5 percent outside of the city. To encourage young people to live in the city, the government offered 70,000 homes to newlyweds in December 2018.
  10. Long Work Weeks: South Koreans work more than the majority of other countries. In 2018, South Korea changed the maximum limit that employees may work from 68 hours to 52 per week. This change was put into effect to improve health conditions and keep laborers from becoming overworked. This bill limited the work week of South Koreans to 40 hours per week with 12 hours of optional overtime at 50 to 100 percent normal pay rate. As the last fact on this list of top 10 facts about living conditions in South Korea, it shows South Korea is prioritizing mental health and the well-being of its citizens.

South Korean has made great advancements in the quality of living conditions, but there is still room for improvement. Many younger Koreans believe that President Moon’s policies will lead to more benefits and a fairer society. These top 10 facts about living conditions in South Korea outline a promising future, but making mental health and financial stability a priority is necessary for the country’s citizens.

Jodie Ann Filenius

Photo: Flickr