North Korea: Dying For Rice

At the start of the twenty-first century, children in north Korea continue to face death from severe malnutrition. Women do not have rice to feed their babies because the world would rather donate surplus American wheat. US assistance has helped tens of thousands who would otherwise have starved. But food aid now needs to be fine-tuned, more targeted and directed less by the Department of Agriculture – whose priority is the interests of American farmers – and more by USAID.

The World Today Updated 27 October 2020 Published 1 February 2000 4 minute READ

Hazel Smith

United States food aid flows into North Korea through the UN’s organisation, the World Food Programme (WFP), at a cost of $160 million a year.

It is the UN’s biggest food aid programme. By late last year, although there were signs that wholesale famine had been averted, there was little evidence that the scale of malnutrition differed significantly from that found in a 1998 international survey.

At that time, a staggering thirty-five percent of boys aged twelve to twenty-four months, and twenty-five percent of girls of the same age, were ‘wasted’. This technical term accurately evokes the suffering of acute malnutrition where lack of food – combined with disease and illness – threatens life unless there is urgent medical intervention. Survivors may be permanently physically and mentally damaged.

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