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North Korea poverty
Despite constant attempts by the North Korean government to delegitimize critics of the country’s severe living conditions and human rights violations, the dire status of its economy is one of the main causes of the consequent rise of North Korea poverty. Such steep levels of economic discomfort and overall hardship in everyday living stems from two main factors, namely the closeness of North Korean economy, and its strict and draconian political system.

A Closer Look

In a country where one in four children suffer from malnutrition, and episodes of defector citizens with parasites living in their stomach are reported, a closer look to the various economic sectors, industries and social relations can be very revealing. In terms of economic freedom, North Korea has been ranked 180th by the Heritage Foundation in 2018, preceded by Venezuela and followed by no one, effectively making it the least economically free country on the planet.

Moreover, there’s no detectable tax system since the government owns and directs virtually every aspect of the economy. As a result, a massive share of the GDP is in fact produced by the same entity that is supposed to tax it.

Regulatory pressure is also a crucial factor that contributes to increase North Korea poverty by tightening up the economy, which grew at an alarmingly slow rate in 2013 (1.1 percent) and in 2014 (1 percent), and decreased in 2015 (-1.1 percent).

Regulations and Shortages

Since private enterprise is virtually non-existent, strict regulations against any resemblance of a private sector are in place, a move thus rendering starting and managing a business practically impossible. The combination of all these factors makes North Korea very reluctant to produce wealth and increase its living standards, especially with the presence of continuous restrictions in international trade and economic sanctions.

Shortage of food and energy need to be compensated by international parties such as China, to which North Korea has grown increasingly more dependent over the last few years. However, a report from the North Korean Economic Watch observed that rice prices, contrarily to what one might have anticipated, have been remarkably stable over the past year.

With economic sanctions in place, it is well conceivable to expect a significant rise in inflation, especially in an overall and continuously poor economy such as that of North Korea.

Such phenomena led experts to believe that the rise of black markets might be the missing link behind such oddities; this would have reinforced, though, the simple yet harsh truth that the extremely high rate of North Korea poverty is a direct result of an economy that simply isn’t strong enough to provide basic and minimal items such as rice to its citizens and their standards of living.

New Rules

All of these instances occur while the government allocates a large amount of its attention and financial resources to the military and missile and nuclear development. This focus leaves primary industries such as agriculture on their own in addition to the high poverty rate and child malnutrition that North Koreans have to face every day.

Since South Korea officially withdrew its provision of farming fertilizers in 2008, the government started a program that delineates farmers are to use their own feces as fertilizers since livestock has became scarce.

Crop failure is also exacerbated by frequent inclement weather, lack of arable land and poor quality of the soil. Between these hardships and the use of human feces as fertilizer, health hazards have increased to the levels of large parasites growing in people’s intestines as a result of poor health.

The hope is that a significant increase of awareness and improved political and anti-poverty policies will help alleviate the seemingly perennial hardship that North Korean citizens have come to experience as normal.

– Luca Di Fabio

Photo: Flickr

Causes of Poverty in North KoreaNorth Korea, the only country in the world which still adopts Stalinist principles, has long been one of the most impoverished countries in the world. Recently, it scored 28.6 in the 2016 Global Hunger Index, a level which the International Food Policy Research Institute classified as “serious.” A report published by the Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU) in 2013 estimated that about half of North Korea’s 24 million lives in “extreme poverty,” who are “severely restricted in access to fuel for cooking and heating.”

The two primary causes of poverty in North Korea are as follows:

Climate and geography
North Korea’s climate is less suitable for agricultural production than that of South Korea. Northern and northwestern winds that blow from Siberia cause the winters in North Korea to be bitterly cold, often involving heavy snow storms. This type of weather is particularly harsh in the mountainous regions in the north, contributing to the relative lack of arable land in North Korea. Due to the cold temperatures, single cropping is usually practiced in the north, while double cropping is possible in the south where winters are less severe.

Because of the country’s mountainous terrain, the regime has sought to increase agricultural production mainly through double cropping, rather than through expanding the cultivable area. However, due to factors such as short cropping season, prolonged and harsh winter, and uncertainty of the spring weather, the results have often been disappointing.

Despotic regime
Another one of the causes of poverty in North Korea is the despotic regime succeeded by the Kim family. During the 1980s, the North Korean regime embarked on a radical economic policy of self-sufficiency known as “juche.” This policy wreaked havoc on the country’s economy, especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, after which the country could not import cheap fuel, its industrial base was fractured and its production of fertilizer decreased.

North Korea’s provocations on the international stage, such as the shelling of the South Korean island in 2010 and repeated nuclear tests, also resulted in numerous sanctions by the U.N., which restricted the amount of humanitarian aid going into North Korea.

These are the main causes of poverty in North Korea. Whether North Korea will be able to escape from poverty will heavily depend on the international community’s efforts, as well as the regime’s willingness to adopt open-market reforms, just as China did in the late 1970s.

Minh Joo Yi

Photo: Flickr