North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has urged citizens to organize for a “difficult” crisis, following human rights groups’ warnings that the country faces dire food shortages and economic instability.
Speaking at a celebration conference, Mr. Kim seemed to compare things to an infamous deadly famine within the 1990s.
North Korea has shut its borders due to the coronavirus pandemic.
It has brought trade with China, its economic lifeline, to a standstill.
This is also on top of existing international economic sanctions over Pyongyang’s nuclear program.
In a rare admission of looming hardship, the authoritarian leader on Thursday called on party cadres to “wage another harder ‘Arduous March’ to alleviate our people of the difficulty, even a little”.
The Arduous March may be a term employed by North Korean officials to ask about the country’s struggle during a devastating famine during the 1990s when the autumn of the Soviet Union left North Korea without crucial aid. Around 3 million people are estimated to possess died during that period.
Earlier in the week, Mr. Kim had warned the country faced the “worst-ever situation” and “unprecedentedly numerous challenges”.
How bad is the situation?
There have been warnings for months that the people of North Korea are struggling.
Reports of hardship appear to becoming especially from towns near the Chinese border, where smuggling would be an enormous earner for many.
The price of corn, the staple diet for many of rural North Korea, has reportedly fluctuated enormously, and sometimes a kilogram of corn has cost quite a month’s wages.
Lina Yoon, a researcher from Human Rights Watch, said during a recent report citing unnamed contacts within the country that “there is barely any food going into the country from China for almost two months now”.
“There are numerous more beggars, some people died from hunger within the border area, and there is no soap, toothpaste, or batteries.”
The UN Special Rapporteur on North Korean Human Rights, Tomás Ojea Quintana, warned last month during a report of a “serious food crisis” already resulting in malnourishment and starvation.
“Deaths by starvation are reported, as has a rise within the number of youngsters and elderly people that have resorted to begging as families are unable to support them.”