Thursday, October 6, 2005

Pyongyang says "bumper crop" means no need for foreign aid

North Korea has, according to the New York Times, declared 2005 to be "The Year of Agriculture." A bumper crop, Pyongyang is saying. And that's why Pyongyang citizens and other DPRKers are being sent out to the fields to help in the harvest (that may sound silly, but ROK students used to do this to show solidarity with the farmers, even into the 1990s; now they spend vacation times traveling or studying English, Chinese, and Japanese at the local hagwon).

But the NYT also suggest that the whole thing may be a show for juornalists:
...the trundling tractors, hard-working peasants, and marching soldiers with harvest baskets on their backs could also have been staged to impress two busloads of journalists who sped along a highway, heading toward South Korea. Separated by a six-foot-high fence and blanket restrictions against interviews with farmers, the visitors had no way of getting a closer view of food supplies in this secretive society.
North Korean officials now say that their overall crop is up ten percent over last year's yield. The NYT puts it this way:
With memories fading of the famine that killed as much as 10 percent of North Korea's population of 22 million in the 1990s, according to estimates by international organizations, officials now cite this year's bumper rice and corn crops to justify new restrictions on foreign aid and foreign aid workers.
That statement just blew me away: "Memories fading" of the famine?! Excuse me, but when millions die, people don't just forget. There is a seething angry at someone (even if it is not the mishandlers--I don't want to say rulers anymore--in Pyongyang) over the deaths of so many loved ones, and that may make things difficult for someone later on (e.g., a new regime in Pyongyang, a South Korea taking over the North, etc.)

Anyway, by the end of this year, the UN-run World Food Program that provides 90% of the food aid is "under orders from North Korea" to shift from direct food to development aid. Plus, all foreign personnel from the twelve private aid groups operating from Pyongyang are to leave the country.

According to the NYT, North Korean officials say they want private aid projects to continue, but they want resident foreigners to leave, returning occasionally to monitor the work. Under such conditions, most are predicted to just leave.

Now the World Food Program, whose largest supporter is the US, must repackage its aid without calling it "development aid." Washington will tolerate "humanitarian aid" for North Korea, but not "development."

Along with the US, Japan and South Korea round out the three primary donors (ironic, isn't it, since these are the three most often reviled in the North Korean press?). These three are still in talks over what will happen on December 31.

Even with a 10% increase, North Korea still falls nearly a million tons short. This is still as serious problem:
...7 percent of North Koreans are starving, and 37 percent are chronically malnourished. According to United Nations statistics, 40 percent of the children suffer from stunted growth, and 20 percent are underweight. The average 7-year-old boy is 7 inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter than his South Korean counterpart.
Some observers are citing two main factors for Pyongyang's actions. One is that they don't want to create a dependency culture (North Korea certainly does like to control its patrons). Dr. Steve Linton (I believe he's the brother of Yonsei University's Dr. Linton) of the Eugene Bell Foundation, which aids forty-four North Korean hospitals and tuberculosis centers, supports this in the NYT article:
I have never seen any evidence that North Korea wanted to become a permanent ward of the international community.
He also makes a revealing point in saying that the foreign aid groups pay a price by agreeing to only have non-Korean speakers in Pyongyang:
I would much rather send in Korean-speaking delegations than have someone living in Pyongyang who makes trips to the countryside with an official interpreter.
Dr. Linton also mentions "the absolute boom" in private aid from South Korea. The South Koreans, the NYT quotes him, will have a much greater and more fundamental impact on North Korea "than foreigners who run around in S.U.V.'s and do not speak the language."

The other factor is the overt tying of humanitarian aid to human rights. If this latter one is true, it creates the conundrum where trying to save lives on one end (focusing on improving the horrific human rights conditions in the North) may mean a loss of lives on the other (when people starve because aid providers have been booted out).

Maybe, however, this will bring North Korea closer to that critical mass where enough people realize that they might as well rise up and risk being killed because not rising up means certain starvation for their families. The sad thing is, though, that so many might die before that is reached.


  1. Well it's a darn lucky thing they are cropping bumpers now. They'll look really nice on those 휘파람 that the Moonies (I think it was the Moonies) are building for them.

    My secretary dropped your book in the mail this morning, so you should have it by Thursday.

    Enjoy! ^^

  2. "bumper crop" means less starvation to the innocent ordinary people. (Kim J-I won't starve even at the worst years)
    So, whatever the reason is, it is good news.

    p.s. what is the general sentiment of the Korean people toward China? and regarding territory/sea dispute? I know there are areas claimed along the border, esp area inhabited by ethnic Koreans, but would love to hear some first hand accounts.


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