The Debate

North Korea and Food Security

A new report by the U.N. highlights how desperate the plight of millions of North Korean children has become.

Almost a third of North Korean children show signs of stunted growth, while millions aren’t getting the health care or even food that they require, according to the United Nations.

“Sixteen million people continue to suffer from chronic food insecurity, high malnutrition rates, and deep-rooted economic problems,” U.N. Resident Coordinator Jerome Sauvage said in a press release yesterday. “Inadequate medical supplies and equipment make the health care system unable to meet basic needs, while the water and heating systems need to be rehabilitated.”

Meanwhile, the United Nations operation in the country “remains seriously underfunded. Provision of assistance must be based on the humanitarian principles: Humanity, Neutrality and Impartiality, and not be contingent on political developments,” he said. “Separating humanitarian needs from political issues is a prerequisite for a sustainable improvement in the condition of people.”

As I mentioned late last week, I was attending a conference co-hosted by the Brookings Institution just outside Washington DC at the weekend, and the issue of food security in North Korea was something that participants discussed. The meetings were held on the understanding that there was to be no attribution, so most of the details of the event, attended by current and former senior military officials, policymakers and media won’t be publicly available. However, Brookings will be releasing some of the presentations on its website, and I recommend readers take a look when they are posted.

There were some frank exchanges on how to approach reunification if and when North Korea collapses, the impact of refugees and the role of China. None of these will come as a surprise. But I was also pleased to see other issues tied to South Korea and the region addressed by leading academics, including climate change. It was argued, for example, that one of the biggest potential areas for cooperation and the bolstering of U.S.-South Korea business ties is in exchanges over renewable energy technology. Such opportunities, one academic suggested, mean that the actual loss of GDP in stabilizing greenhouse gas emissions between now and 2050 could be surprisingly low.

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I’ll post links to what Brookings releases from the meeting once their up, but in the meantime, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s statement on this last year pretty much summed up the mood of the conference on the issue:

“Rather than viewing growth and sustainability as competing goals on a collision course, we must see them as complementary and mutually supportive imperatives. This becomes possible when we embrace a low-carbon, resource efficient, pro-poor economic model.”