How to Mitigate Suffering in North Korea

suffering in North KoreaThe late 20th-century famine in North Korea caused by drought, flooding and lack of government intervention left around two million Koreans dead. In the 21st century, thousands of children are suffering in North Korea due to malnutrition and the country is still facing difficulties in keeping up with its more developed counterparts.

Suffering in North Korea

North Korea is disconnected in many ways from our global world. However, reports released in June from the government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea will help humanitarian aid agencies better navigate their aid to the East Asian nation. The Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey used data from 8,500 households in North Korea last year to assess the lives of children and women. According to the troubling report, nearly 20 percent of children are stunted and 10 percent suffer from diarrhea — a condition usually associated with contaminated water.

Humanitarian Aid Organizations and North Korea

Fortunately, aid organizations are already working to mitigate suffering in North Korea. UNICEF trains doctors and health workers to improve breastfeeding rates and maternal health while UNICEF and WHO are supporting immunization programs.

Additionally, according to the WHO Country Cooperation Strategy for the DPR of Korea, improvements are being seen in the nation regarding women’s health and management of severe illnesses. The five priorities of the strategy are: the challenges of noncommunicable diseases and their modifiable risk factors; address women’s and children’s health to reduce vulnerability and promote disaster risk reduction; communicable diseases; strengthening health systems; and ensuring the country presence of WHO to support sustainable national health development. WHO also works closely with United Nations Strategic Framework, United Nations Populations Fund, European Union-funded nongovernmental organizations and The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

The organizations can draw important conclusions from new data. For example, new information substantiates that rural areas are struggling greatly compared to their urban counterparts, that have more wealth and get better healthcare. In the capital city, Pyongyang, only 10 percent of the children are affected by stunting while in Ryanggang Province it is over 30 percent.

While reports are mostly positive, almost one in five youths are experiencing chronic or recurrent malnutrition. This number is down from nearly one in three just six years ago.

Steps to Alleviate Suffering in North Korea

In light of the new information, international aid organizers are emphasizing the need for increased assistance in North Korea. According to UNICEF Deputy Executive Director, Shanelle Hall, “Humanitarian assistance is making a difference in the lives of women and children across the country.”

Karin Hulshof, UNICEF Regional Director for East Asia and the Pacific, said that the new data will help the organization to better direct their efforts to maximize aid — noting that accurate information is the “foundation” of humanitarian aid.

Humanitarian aid organizations are still facing hurdles. The World Food Programme’s 2018 appeal for $52 million to control the dire situation in Korea is so far only 19.2 percent funded. As North Korea is facing strict sanctions from governments across the world, humanitarian aid for food — which is largely exempt from sanctions — is significant. The largest sources of funding came from stock transfers and the Swiss and Canadian governments.


Food insecurity affects millions worldwide and its reduction requires systematic effort on behalf of governments, individuals and humanitarian aid organizations. With a per capita GDP of $1,700 and one of the weakest economies in the world, assistance from other developed nations is required to mitigate suffering in North Korea.

– Isabel Bysiewicz
Photo: Flickr