Opinion

North Korea’s people are starving, and they need our help

The US and South Korea should not withhold humanitarian aid to further political ends

Former President Jimmy Carter recently made a three-day visit to assess North Korea’s continuing food shortage. He returned charging the U.S. with worsening the shortage by withholding food aid to millions in North Korea. Carter sees this situation as a human rights violation. Understandably, the former president would not want any person to starve. Unfortunately, many critics want to keep economic sanctions in place and food shipments minimal. They believe that repressive governments such as North Korea’s should not be given aid. But peanutman Jimmy Carter sees it in a different light; millions should not have to suffer for the North Korean government’s actions.

Currently, 3.5 million of the 24 million people in North Korea are classified as “very vulnerable” to critical starvation, as evaluated by a recent United Nations study. Poor yields from crops, flooding, and a harsh winter have led to these dire conditions. The United Nations World Food Program stated that the government food supply will dwindle, with the average amount dropping from 1,400 calories per day to only 700. Despite worsening conditions, many countries, including the U.S., are joining South Korea in restricting food aid from the North. Currently, European countries continue to assess how to act, and North Koreans continue to starve.

But sympathizers of North Korea should know that food aid delivery may hold political risks. Critics of food aid purport that since North Korea has an inherently unproductive economy, the country may rely on international assistance to avoid addressing economic reforms. Moreover, the food imported to Pyongyang — meant to feed the starving millions — may instead be redistributed by North Korean officials to troops. But these concerns can be mediated by close inspection of food transport.

Does North Korea deserve pity? Not at all. Kim Jong-Il has been living in luxury, centralizing the nation’s wealth to himself and government officials instead of revitalizing the agriculture budget for North Koreans. Jong-Il has not relaxed the North’s nuclear weapons program and welcomes weapons sales. Just last year, North Korea allegedly sank the South Korean Cheonan warship, killing 46 sailors. And six months ago, Pyongyang forces shelled the Yeonpyeong Islands. The North Korean government has certainly committed terrible atrocities, but citizens should not be held responsible for their government’s crimes.

We need to keep in mind that humanitarian efforts should be kept separate from foreign policy. Help should be available everywhere. Japan, Syria, Libya, and any other disaster-stricken country needs and deserves aid. Inclusion of our politics in humanitarian assistance decisions will only prevent needed aid from reaching certain countries — there is nothing humanitarian about that.

In 1995–1996, the U.S. was the second leading contributor of aid to North Korea, after China. Back then, the U.S. sent aid because North Korea had suffered from flooding, internal industrial decline, and breakdown in food distribution. The flooding destroyed over 350,000 hectares of arable land, approximately 1.5 million tons of grain, and displaced 500,000 people. The flood also destroyed bridges, roads, and homes, with total damages estimated at $15 billion, according to official estimates. The disaster heralded a nationwide famine that lasted nearly a decade. After the flooding, food rationing went from 458 grams to 200 grams — the equivalent of only a handful of food. Some remote areas of North Korea did not receive any food supply at all. The death toll of the famine is anywhere from 900,000 to 3.5 million.

To deprive the millions starving in North Korea from food aid today would be to make that same mistake again.

5 Comments
1
Tony Picking almost 7 years ago

The author says that close inspection of food distribution will mediate redistribution away from civilians to troops, but North Korea is infamous for not allowing inspectors to monitor food distribution. The few inspectors that are allowed into the country at all are kept in closely controlled areas like Pyongyang, and the vast majority of donated food is channeled to troops and the privileged elite.

I sincerely share the author's desire to help the millions of starving North Korean civilians, but Kim Jong Il's brutally repressive regime simply doesn't make that possible.

2
Andrew Farrell almost 7 years ago

Agreed Tony,

furthermore, while it is virtuous and compassionate to provide aid for the starving North Koreans, we do not have a moral obligation to. We do not govern them. We do not have any but the coarsest influence over their government.

Without power comes no responsibility.

3
WILLIAM LEDFERD almost 7 years ago

I ASK ALL TO PRAY TO GOD, THAT FOOD WILL NOT BE WITHELD FOR POLITICAL REASONS. IN JUNE OVER 100,000 WILL DIE OF STARVATION. IF WE WERE IN THE OTHER SHOE'S OF MAN, WOULD WE NOT ASK. DO UNTO OTHERS AS YOU WOULD HAVE THEM DO UNTO YOU. DO GOD'S WILL NOT OURS. GOD BLESS YOU ALL AND GOD BLESS AMERICA.

4
Anonymous almost 7 years ago

Let the Chinese feed their allies!

5
Rachel almost 7 years ago

The greatest nation on earth? God fearing people? Honorable people of high moral values? I think not! The US is just a nation of fat apathetic farts. You don't much more evil than standing by and watching others starve! Demon-oc-racy - lets spread it around...