North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has formally acknowledged that the country is facing a food crisis.
The acknowledgment comes as the leadership faces a series of challenges, including a year of flood damage, an economic slump due to strict border closures with China, and international sanctions imposed due to its nuclear weapons programme.
His public admission about the country’s dire food situation is said to be highly unusual, according to The New York Times.
Food situation is “tense”
Speaking at a plenary meeting of the central committee of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea that kicked off on Tuesday (June 15), the Supreme Leader said the country’s food situation is “tense”, state media Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported.
Kim, 37, attributed the food shortages to the lower agricultural output that resulted from crop failures caused by typhoons last year.
He urged Party officials to “take positive measures” to resolve the problem.
Nevertheless, Kim struck an optimistic tone regarding the country’s economic outlook, saying the economy had improved this year, with a boost in industrial production.
North Korea faces regular food shortages
NK News, citing an informed source, reported that a kilogram of bananas is now selling for US$45 (S$60.21), along with other price hikes for imported goods, which had reappeared in Pyongyang shops in April this year.
The country was already facing a food shortage of an estimated 1 million metric tons last year, which amounts to 445 calories less for the average North Korean than the 2,100-calorie diet recommended by the United Nations, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported, citing a U.S. Department of Agriculture report.
But the extent of the severity of the food shortage is hard to determine without satellite images of the country’s farmlands, Go Myong-hyun, a senior fellow at Seoul-based think tank Asan Institute told WSJ.
North Korea experiences regular food shortages. Previously in 2019, the country attributed its food shortage to natural disasters and international sanctions, Reuters reported.
Its worst famine, which happened in the 1990s, killed millions of North Koreans.
Economic slump due to border closures
Previously in February, Kim had lashed out at his officials as the country’s last economy plan had failed “tremendously”, even firing his economy minister in the process, The Washington Post (WaPo) reported.
In April, he urged government officials to wage another “Arduous March” of work and sacrifice , Reuters reported.
The North Korean economy reportedly hit its worst slump in more than two decades last year, which was largely brought about by border closures with China — accounting for around 90 per cent of its trade volume — in a bid to keep the Covid-19 outbreak at bay.
Back in October last year, Kim had shed tears while giving a rare apology to the people for not living up to their “trust” satisfactorily.
North Korea has yet to confirm any Covid-19 cases.
Its public health infrastructure is thought to be particularly vulnerable to any widespread viral outbreaks.
It was one of the first countries to close its borders in January last year when the Covid-19 pandemic was starting to spread across the globe.
Top image via KCNA