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

In August of 2016, Typhoon Lionrock struck the northeast region of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea). The massive flooding washed away over 30,000 homes, took the lives of hundreds of people and destroyed thousands more lives. The aftermath of the typhoon also left food sources more depleted than they already were. Humanitarian aid to North Korea came in truck-loads, providing shelter relief, food, non-food items and health care supplies to residents.

According to the 2016 Global Hunger Index, 41 percent of North Korea’s residents are undernourished. Along with that, 70 percent of the population relies on food aid. The communist country, unfortunately, has a recurring issue with hunger. In the 1990s, North Korea faced its most deadly famine that resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths.

Since the decade-long famine, the United Nations has reported that humanitarian aid to North Korea has been able to relieve some of the hunger problems, yet natural disasters continue to jeopardize the progress. The flooding North Korea faced from Typhoon Lionrock was declared “the worst disaster” the country had seen since World War II. Without humanitarian aid, the affected parts of the country would be left in ruins.

The United Nations World Food Program was one of the first organizations to enter the country on an emergency food assistance operation. They delivered food to more than 140,000 survivors. The Red Cross also joined in the efforts by providing water purification supplies along with tools and tents to build shelters.

Altogether, the U.N. and NGOs contributed $43.78 million in funding in 2016. Almost $35 million was spent on nutrition and food while the remainder was spent on sanitation services and various other aid-functions.

In September of 2016, as a response to the recent catastrophe, the U.N. and the North Korean government came to an agreement called the United Nations Strategic Framework (UNSF). This framework’s strategy, which was officially put into place in January 2017, is to reduce the need for humanitarian aid by solidifying investments into communities to better prepare them in responding to disasters such as Typhoon Lionrock. This is a five-year plan prioritizing food and nutrition security, social development services, resilience and sustainability and data and development management.

The framework’s overall strategy theme is “sustainable and resilient human development.” It will develop a new kind of approach to recovery and rehabilitation of North Korea. Within the four priorities, UNSF seeks to pursue environmental sustainability, increase the resilience of North Korean people and localize new Sustainable Development Goals in accordance with what is currently happening in North Korea.

For example, there will be plans put in place to know how to respond if another typhoon strikes. As North Korean residents will be more prepared for future disasters, they will rely less on humanitarian aid.

According to the framework, humanitarian aid to North Korea will reduce by 2021. In the meantime, as the country now faces a serious drought jeopardizing its renewing crops, humanitarian aid to North Korea will continually be a hopeful source.

– Brianna Summ

Photo: Flickr