North Korea ‘reduces food rations for troops’ for first time in 23 years

North Korea is expected to hold ‘very important and urgent’ meeting on strategy for agriculture

Shweta Sharma
Wednesday 15 February 2023 12:19 GMT
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North Korea’s severe food crisis is only getting worse according to its neighbour South Korea, with a media report claiming Pyongyang has cut ration supplies for soldiers for the first time in 23 years.

Supplies were reduced to 580g per North Korean soldier from the previous 620g, reported The Dong-A Ilbo newspaper, citing a high-ranking South Korean government official, raising concerns that the East Asian country’s food shortage could be even worse than imagined.

This is the first time since 2000 that North Korea has cut back on the food quota of one of its priority groups, despite the military’s contribution to leader Kim Jong-un’s pledge for an “exponential increase” in the country’s nuclear arsenal.

“Its food situation seems to have deteriorated,” said South Korea’s unification ministry, which administers policy-making on matters realted to its Korean neighbour and inter-Korea dialogue.

The ministry said it could not confirm the details of the report, but added that the North has effectively acknowledged its serious food shortages in the past.

It referred to a North Korean state media report this month that revealed the North’s plans for an “urgent” ruling party meeting on agriculture.

File Farmers plant rice using rice seedling transplanter at Chongsan Cooperative Farm in Kangso District, Nampho, North Korea in 2022

The ruling Workers’ Party of Korea called for a meeting of the party’s Central Committee in late February for the “very important and urgent task to establish the correct strategy for the development of agriculture”, North Korea’s state media KCNA reported last week.

North Korea has been criticised for conducting a record number of missile tests last year while its people suffer one of the most severe food shortages in recent decades.

US-based monitoring group 38 North said last month that North Korea’s “food availability has likely fallen below the bare minimum with regard to human needs”, with food insecurity at its worst since famines in the 1990s.

In April 2021, Mr Kim himself raised the threat of food shortages in his country, comparing the situation to a deadly famine, when an estimated three million people were killed between 1994 and 1998. It was a period of mass starvation when food shortages struck after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The hermit kingdom, which has a 25 million population, had virtually choked itself off from the world after closing its border during the Covid pandemic. It was already significantly isolated by strict international sanctions over its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programme.

The country also battled a severe Covid outbreak after acknowledging infections only in 2022, years after the pandemic struck the world.

The country, however, declared victory over the virus in the same year and did not report on how many people caught Covid. Cases of fever were reported, apparently due to lack of means to conduct testing.

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