Winning the Food Wars

On the heels of news about food riots breaking out in Africa and Central America, the Washington Post reports that North Korea is in danger of a massive food crisis of its own.

TOKYO, April 16 — Food-starved North Korea is facing a humanitarian crisis this year and will likely need large food donations from the international community, the U.N. World Food Program said Wednesday.

“Major sources of food for North Korea are all going down and there is no very good prospect that any will go up soon,” said Tony Banbury, the regional director in Asia for the WFP.

This year’s food shortfall is projected to be 1.66 million metric tons, about double the need of last year and the highest since 2001, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

News tends to flow in and out of North Korea at a trickle, but this is nothing new. In the mid 1990′s an estimated two million people died in that country during a massive famine. As the article makes clear, the current problem is, at least in part, the fault of the North Korean government. They overestimated their own food production capacity, and the problem was amplified by floods and poor growing conditions last fall. At the same time, South Korea penalized them with decreased food donations because of the North’s failure to meet specific goals in nuclear disarmament and humanitarian concerns. China has also rolled back their donations, though the reasons for that appear to be based more on their own food production problems.

There may be an opportunity here. North Korea is a very closed nation and its citizens are unable to access news from international sources. The government has proven frustratingly stubborn in the face of diplomatic pressure to make improvements. Rather than threats and saber rattling, large scale infusions of food might be the leverage needed to apply a positive approach in opening that nation up. Clearly the people of North Korea should not be punished for the stupidity and evil of their leader, and richer nations blessed with abundent food resources should take this opportunity to help.

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  • Dave_Schuler

    I'm not certain what you're suggesting here, Jazz. If you're suggesting that other countries should be stepping up to the plate to prevent humanitarian disaster in North Korea, I agree. There's at least one country that's in a great position to give NK a helping hand and is already positioned to do so: China.

    If you're suggesting that the U. S. can benefit by sending food aid to North Korea, I'm not so sure. Would the North Korean authorities allow the people to know the source of the food? The authorities can certainly prevent the people from knowing easily enough and, if they don't know, I don't see how we can benefit from a relations with North Korea standpoint.

    If you're suggesting that we “give in secret”, while I agree that it would be virtuous, good for our souls, karma, etc., I don't think we should kid ourselves into thinking there would be much temporal benefit to it.

  • nchristine

    I agree with Dave.

    Also, during the famine that occurred in the mid 90's many sent in tonnes of food. That didn't gain the world an any more open North Korea, although the few people that were saved by the contributions were probably grateful. During the 90's famine, there were rumors of people not only eating grass, trees, rodents (of any type), cats, and dogs, but also cannibalism.

    If “we're” going to be giving food, it shouldn't be for any other reason than it's the human and right thing to do.

  • runasim

    I agree that the decision to help should be based on humanitarian grounds.

    I'm not so sure, however, that the US wouldn't reap side benefits. If the N.Koreans wouldn't know the source of the food, the international press would.
    It wouldn't hurt to have the world witness the US export something other than armaments, sermons and brute force.

  • Dave_Schuler

    I'm not so sure, however, that the US wouldn't reap side benefits. If the N.Koreans wouldn't know the source of the food, the international press would.
    It wouldn't hurt to have the world witness the US export something other than armaments, sermons and brute force.

    We've been sending food to other countries for humanitarian purposes in large amounts for nearly a century, beginning when World War I concluded. It hasn't rallied the international press to our side so far. Why would sending food to North Korea do so now? Especially when the international press is so very far from North Korea.

    Look, I think it's a good idea. I just think that it's a mitzvah.

  • runasim

    Dave,

    When something is a constant, like our food aid over decades, it becomes background noise and no one notices.
    Post 'Axis of Evil', sending food to N.Korea, would stand out as exceptional., IMO.
    If the international press doesn't take notice on its own initiative, I would have no problem with press releases from US embassies around the globe.

    While the international press is, indeed, far from N. Korea, the nuclear missiles issue has not been forgotten, keeping interest in everything to do with that country very much alive.