The end of World War II brought the division of North and South Korea. The fragmented region became occupied by the United States in the south and by the Soviet Union in the north. While both nations now hold sovereign status, they are still not on good terms. An area that spans the width of both countries and is roughly two and a half miles long separates the north from the south today. This zone, called the demilitarized zone (DMZ), is rarely crossed to travel from one country to another. That has changed recently, though.
Potential for Change
On Wednesday, the South Korean government announced that they will give North Korea 50,000 tons of rice to offset rising malnutrition rates in the region. South Korea sharing food with its neighbor marks the first humanitarian venture across the DMZ to provide food aid in North Korea.
Historically, North Korea has faced numerous issues providing the proper nourishment to their population. Here are a few quick facts on North Korean malnourishment:
The Bleak Facts
- Roughly half of North Korea’s population of 24 million live in extreme poverty. North Korea holds the lowest spot on world personal freedom rankings. Poverty, coupled with a lack of freedom, has led to very poor living conditions for its citizens.
- One-third of children in North Korea have stunted growth because of malnourishment.
- The Global Hunger Index ranked North Korea tenth from last, stating the hunger levels seen in this country are a serious health threat. One-third of children are thought to have their growth permanently stunted due to malnourishment. The lack of food not only affects children, it has also dropped life expectancies by five years.
- North Korea has lost hundreds of thousands of people to malnourishment due to historical famines. The largest, which occurred in the 1990s, had a disputed death toll that varied widely from 800,000 people to 3.5 million. This famine, although it killed several hundred thousand, if not millions, has never been acknowledged by the North Korean government.
- Currently, the country is facing the worst drought in a decade, which led to a 1.36 million ton shortage of grain. This shortage forced the North Korean government to reduce rations to only 11 ounces per person daily. If nothing is done to counterbalance the food shortage caused by this drought, up to 40 percent of the population is at risk of needing food aid in the next few months.
A New Precedent
These facts paint a bleak picture of life in North Korea, yet South Korea is trying to offset this growing problem by offering food aid. South Korea sharing food is an act of good faith aimed at improving relations between the two countries. The possibility of South Korea sharing food in the future with its estranged neighbor depends on North Korea ending its nuclear weapons program and improving ties between the two countries.
An act of humanitarian aid between two divided countries gives hope that someday food, not fences, will be shared between the two countries and that the world will see a unified Korea sharing food.