N Korea paper warns against ‘poisoned candy’ amid food shortages

The Rodong Sinmun warns against accepting external help amid reports North Korea is teetering on brink of famine.

A North Korean boy holds a spade in a corn field in area damaged by floods and typhoons in the Soksa-Ri collective farm in the South Hwanghae province September 29, 2011.
North Korean boy holds a spade in a corn field in area damaged by floods and typhoons in the Soksa-Ri collective farm in the South Hwanghae province, September 29, 2011 [File: Damir Sagolj/ Reuters]

North Korea’s official newspaper has urged economic self-reliance amid reports of food shortages, arguing that relying on external aid to cope with the food situation would be like taking “poisoned candy”.

The commentary, published in the Rodong Sinmun on Wednesday, comes days after South Korea announced that the food crisis in North Korea “seems to have deteriorated”. The United States-based think tank, 38 North, warned last month that North Korea – which is reeling from floods and typhoons as well as global sanctions over its nuclear programme – was “on the brink of famine”.

In Wednesday’s commentary, however, the Rodong Sinmun cautioned against receiving economic help from “imperialists” who, it said, use aid as a “trap to plunder and subjugate” recipient countries and interfere with their internal politics.

“It is a mistake to try to boost the economy by accepting and eating this poisoned candy,” the paper said.

The World Food Programme (WFP), which has helped North Korea in the past, has not commented on the recent reports of shortages.

North Korea has over recent decades suffered serious food shortages, including famine in the 1990s, often as a result of natural disasters. Experts say the current food shortages, triggered by poor harvests amid extreme weather conditions, have been exacerbated by lockdowns and a sharp reduction in trade with China due to border closures during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most United Nations agencies and Western relief groups left North Korea following the pandemic. China is now one of the country’s few sources of external food assistance.

South Korea’s Minister of Unification Kwon Young-se has previously said Pyongyang had asked the WFP to provide support but that there was no progress because of differences over monitoring issues.

The Unification Ministry has also said Pyongyang has effectively acknowledged the worsening food situation in the country by calling for an “urgent” meeting of the ruling Workers Party on agriculture this month. The ministry said it was rare for Pyongyang to call such a special meeting.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, meanwhile, has reported that some 700 inmates at three North Korean countryside prisons, including in the central city of Kaechon, have died from famine and diseases over the past two years, citing an unnamed source.

The Dong-a Ilbo newspaper also reported last week that North Korea had reduced daily food rations to its soldiers for the first time since 2000. The paper cited an unidentified senior South Korean official.

The 38 North think tank says food insecurity in North Kore is at its “worst since the 1990s famine”.

“Food availability has likely fallen below the bare minimum with regards to human needs,” it said last month, adding that the country was “dealing with a complex humanitarian emergency with food insecurity at its core”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies