Associated France Press (AFP) 5/5/2006
North Korea Could Face Food Crisis
By JAE-SOON CHANG, SEOUL, South Korea - North Korea cannot feed its people and could face another famine like the one that killed up to 3 million unless it changes its "regressive" food policies, a U.S. rights group warned Thursday.
The communist state, which relied on foreign handouts for a decade to feed its 23 million people, decided last year to reject international aid, resume full-scale state distribution of food and ban the private sale of grain, saying it could feed itself with good harvests.
The country received aid from South Korea and China, its main food donors.
But New York-based Human Rights Watch said the decisions are ill-judged and already are showing signs of problems.
"Only a decade ago, similar policies led to the famine that killed anywhere from 580,000 to more than 3 million," the group said in a statement released to reporters in Seoul. "Regressive policies ... could someday lead to a repeat of the food crisis in the 1990s."
The group urged the North to reopen the country to international aid agencies and ensure that its food distribution is not discriminatory based on loyalty to the regime.
"The government is apparently trying to turn back the clock to regain some of the control lost when it allowed people greater freedom to move around and buy grain," Human Rights Watch said. "There is little reason to believe the North Korean government is now capable of providing enough food to all its citizens."
Diplomats at the North Korean mission in New York were not immediately available for comment. North Korean state media did not carry any response to the group’s report.
The North has relied on foreign aid to feed its people since disclosing in the mid-1990s that its state-run farming system had collapsed following natural disasters, decades of mismanagement and the loss of Soviet subsidies.
In an attempt to revive its economy, Pyongyang carried out reforms in 2002 that allowed the private sale of food while significantly scaling back state-controlled distribution. The reforms loosened the totalitarian regime’s control over its population, as people were allowed to move around to seek food.
As the situation improved last year, however, the communist regime reinstated the previous policies.
It also asked the World Food Program and other international aid agencies to end their emergency aid operations and switch to development assistance. The WFP shut down its programs in December but said millions of hungry people still needed aid.
Human Rights Watch claimed that the North’s state food distribution is already showing problems, based on accounts by at least one Chinese of North Korean descent. That man, who was not identified, told the group his relatives in North Korea had not received any rations since November.