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.