Articles detailing poverty in North Korea and human rights abuses.


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

hunger in North Korea

The amount of people suffering from hunger in North Korea has been on a steady incline since the 1990s. North Korea is home to about 25 million people and 10.5 million of these people are undernourished. While 70 percent of the population relies on food aid, the country’s military ambitions have invited harsh sanctions that severely hamper its people.

Roughly a quarter of North Korea’s GDP is funneled into helping Kim Jong-Un present a façade of power via nuclear weapons development. The continued missile launches have caused a lessening of support from charities and world leaders, making it even harder for North Koreans to find food.

Because of this, the vulnerable citizens of North Korea are desperately in need of aid. According to a United Nations report, “More predictable funding is urgently required to ensure the immediate needs of the most vulnerable are addressed.”

In November 2017, North Korea launched an intercontinental ballistic missile. The heightened tensions that resulted instigated the United Nations to respond with new sanctions on the regime’s energy supplies.

But while sanctions grip the country in an attempt to incentivize halting nuclear weapons development, the sanctions have also impacted hunger in North Korea. About 60,000 children are at risk of dying due to a lack of food, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund. On Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018, UNICEF launched a $16.5 million emergency relief for North Korea.

President Donald Trump announced new sanctions against North Korea on Friday, Feb. 23, 2018, and called them “the strongest sanctions on Korea that we have ever put on a country.” The move puts pressure on North Korea’s shipping and trade.

Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in January that the international sanctions are “really starting to hurt” North Korea and was confident it would lead the regime to negotiate. The sanctions, combined with drought, corruption and a decline in crop production, add to hunger in North Korea more than they prevent weapon development.

The poor farmers of North Korea have, in some instances, resorted to using human waste as fertilizer for their crops, according to the BBC. This practice leads to the contamination of food grown in the soil. Furthermore, in January, a soldier was shot as he defected from North Korea and attempted to run across the demilitarized zone. An autopsy revealed his severe undernourishment, as well as the presence of many parasites in his stomach.

Kim Jong-Un has leveraged the threat of nuclear weapons and military to attain the opportunity to sit down with the President of the United States. All the while, the North Korean people suffer starvation in exchange. Hunger in North Korea will only continue to worsen if other charitable organizations, such as UNICEF, are unable to provide assistance to the nation.

– Sam Bramlett

Photo: Flickr

Living Conditions in North Korea
Refugees and journalists consistently cite dire living conditions in North Korea, one of the most repressive authoritarian nations in the world. Leaking information from the secretive police state, they report firsthand knowledge to outsiders. According to these sources, the North Korean government commits severe human rights abuses against its citizens, and the government can barely feed its own people.

A 2014 U.N. Commission of Inquiry report cited numerous human rights abuses in North Korea, including murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, forced abortions and sexual violence. The government extracts unquestioning obedience through public executions, arbitrary detention, forced labor, tight travel restrictions and religious persecution. Citizens have no basic freedoms such as the right to expression, assembly, political opposition or independent media. A sociopolitical stratification system divides North Koreans into three classes: “loyal,” “wavering” and “hostile.”

The specter of prison is one means of keeping the population in line. North Korea’s draconian three generations rule punishes the entire immediate family if one member is convicted of a serious crime. The next two generations born in the camp are then detained there for life. Existence in the camps is extreme. Clothing and food are so scarce that prisoners survive on rats and anything else they can catch. Inmates are frequently left stunted and deformed from long hours of hard labor. Twelve-hour days, seven days a week is the normal work schedule.

Life outside of the prison camps has its own grave challenges. Living conditions in North Korea are characterized by deprivation. The elite ruling class enjoys basic benefits of modern life such as indoor plumbing, cars, meat, coffee and a few luxury items. The middle class receives sufficient food and occasional new clothes. Most people, however, struggle to survive. Half of the nation’s 24 million people live in extreme poverty. North Korea’s annual GDP per capita is $1,800, making it 197th in the world and only 2 percent of South Korea’s.

One-third of North Korean children are stunted from malnutrition. For most people, meat is an unaffordable luxury. They subsist on fermented cabbage known as kimchi, rice, corn and porridge. Most homes are heated by open fireplaces, and many have no flush toilets. Electricity, for those fortunate enough to have it, is unreliable and sporadic. Power might be available for only a few hours each day. Frequently, cell phones are used as flashlights during outages.

Theoretically, education and healthcare are free in North Korea. However, school children must provide financially for desks, chairs, building materials and heat. Patients must provide their own medications, pay for heat and cook their own meals at home.

Still, living conditions in North Korea are showing some improvement, particularly for the elite who are privileged enough to reside in the capital of Pyongyang. According to the South Korea Central Bank, the North Korean economy grew by almost 4 percent in 2016. Despite spotty service and no internet, there are now 1.5 million mobile phone users. Even in smaller cities outside of Pyongyang, electric bikes from China and Japan can be seen mingling with the country’s ubiquitous bicycles.

In Pyongyang, people are buying smartphones, tablets, hi-fi speakers and HDTVs. With the exception of accessing the internet, North Korean smartphones have similar capacities to those in other nations. In place of the internet, citizens use a state-controlled intranet. There are North Korean versions of Google, Facebook, chat rooms and online dating. Food courts in Pyongyang malls offer American-style fast food restaurants serving milkshakes and French fries. Skating rinks opened in 2013, ushering in a rollerblading craze for those wealthy enough to afford skates.

Despite difficult living conditions in North Korea, its people make the best of their circumstances. In some ways, their lives are not so different from those in democratic countries. North Koreans play video games and beach volleyball. They enjoy picnics complete with food, beer and karaoke. And of course, their teenagers take lots of selfies. Hope remains that the situation can improve so that all of its people can enjoy the living conditions that its wealthiest citizens currently do.

– Anna Parker

Photo: Flickr

Facts about Poverty in North Korea
North Korea is constantly in the news due to its nuclear tests programs. The majority of state funds are spent on its nuclear program while social institutions are overlooked. Millions suffer from extreme poverty in North Korea as a result.


10 Leading Facts on Poverty in North Korea


  1. The poverty line. Forty percent of the population, about 24 million people, live below the poverty line. Most workers earn $2 to $3 per month. The standard of living has deteriorated to extreme levels of deprivation while the average life expectancy has fallen by five years since early the 1980s.
  2. Food shortages. With the prevalent poverty in North Korea, food shortages are widespread. A famine that started in the 1990s had a lasting effect, forcing the country to become reliant on international aid to feed its people. However, since 2009 food assistance has declined significantly. A study by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization found that 84% of households have “borderline or poor food consumption.” The food crises had resulted in thousands of deaths. According to the World Food Programme, one-third of children are stunted due to malnutrition and the infant mortality rate is 33%. Due to the government’s “two meals a day campaign” food riots are a common occurrence.
  3. The giant rabbit feeding program. In order to solve the widespread food shortages, Kim Jun-il began to breed giant overweight rabbits in 2007. He got this idea after seeing Karl Szmolinsky, a German rabbit breeder, breed the world’s largest rabbit. Szmolinsky sent overweight rabbits to North Korea but the experiment turned out to be a failure when it was suspected Kim was eating the rabbits himself.
  4. Human feces government program. Farming fertilizers used to be imported from South Korea. However, South Korea stopped sending them in 2008. The government, therefore, created a program where farmers had to use their own feces as fertilizers. Factory workers have to meet a quota of two tons of human feces.
  5. Right to health is denied. Although the country declares that healthcare is free, residents are denied medical treatment unless they can pay the high prices for medicine.
  6. Military programs use most of the funds. North Korea spends a lot of its funds on the military. In 2001, the country spent more than $5 billion on military spending alone, which is more than 30% of the country’s GDP. North Korea is believed to have around half a dozen nuclear weapons.
  7. Despite high poverty rates, the leader is worth $5 billion. According to the 2011 corruption index from Transparency International, North Korea is officially the world’s most corrupt country. It is estimated that Kim inherited $4 billion from his father. According to a South Korean news organization, he is worth as much $5 billion. The money is held in secret accounts in European banks and comes from counterfeiting, the sales of narcotics and other illegal endeavors. Kim also spends vast amounts of money on luxury goods. It is reported he spent $645.8 million in 2012.
  8. Refugees who are caught are sent to prison labor camps. Leaving the country without official permission is a crime. The government uses the threat of detention and forced labor as repercussions for disobedience. Many families flee to China to seek refuge overseas. However, those that are caught are sent to political prisoner camps. The camps carry out systemic abuse. Death rates at these camps are reportedly very high. U.S. and South Korean officials estimate that between 80,000 to 120,000 people are imprisoned in these camps.
  9. Crystal meth epidemic. North Korea suffers a widespread meth epidemic. To negate the horrid economy with little to no government help, the production of drugs is used as an economic stimulus. In 2000, North Korean factories began to produce methamphetamine. This caused an increase in the domestic use of meth. The drug is now very occurrence and is seen as something of a luxury. As a result, many North Koreans have become addicted to the drug. It is estimated that 80% of residents have used the drug while 40% are addicted.
  10. The satire film “The Interview” gets a lot right. According to an expert, the film gets a lot right, specifically the psychology of North Korea. Visitors to Pyongyang in the famine years used to describe supermarkets that displayed plastic produce, just as is portrayed in the film.

Kim Jong Un’s rise to power is seen as a threat to western political leaders. However, the international community has begun to focus on North Korea’s human rights violations and poverty in the country.

Marcelo Guadiana

Photo: Flickr