North Korea is releasing emergency military rice reserves as its food shortage worsens, South Korea’s spy agency said Tuesday, with a heat wave and drought reducing the country’s supply. North Korea’s reported food problems come as its moribund economy continues to be battered by the protracted COVID-19 pandemic. While mass starvation and social chaos have not been reported, observers expect a further deterioration of North Korea’s food situation until the autumn harvest. Seoul’s National Intelligence Service told a closed-door parliamentary committee meeting that North Korea is supplying rice reserved for wartime use to citizens with little food, other laborers, and rural state agencies, according to Ha Tae-keung, one of the lawmakers who attended the session. More:
- The AP reports Ha cited the NIS as saying an ongoing heat wave and drought have wiped out rice, corn, and other crops and killed livestock in North Korea, whose leadership views fighting the drought as "a matter of national existence." Another lawmaker, Kim Byung-kee, quoted the NIS as saying that North Korea normally needs about 5.5 million tons of food to feed its 26 million people but is currently short 1 million tons. Ha said North Korea is trying to control the price of grains to which its public is most sensitive.
- North Korea had similar food shortages in past years before the pandemic, according to expert Kwon Tae-jin, but its needs were met by the smuggling of rice and other grains via its porous border with China. But North Korea’s ongoing pandemic-caused border closure makes it extremely difficult for such smuggling to happen, worsening this year’s food shortage, Kwon said.
- According to the NIS, North Korea wants the United States to relax some of the newer UN sanctions imposed over its high-profile weapons tests as a precondition for returning to talks on its nuclear program. They are bans on exporting mineral resources and importing refined oil and high-end liquors and suits. Kim Jong Un, in particular, needs those liquors and suits to distribute to elites in North Korea, Ha cited the NIS as saying.
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