SEOUL — North Korea is bracing itself for a possible food crisis in the coming months.
Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, issued a rare warning about a “tense” food situation brought about by extensive flooding, the coronavirus pandemic and international sanctions, the state news media reported on Wednesday.
Mr. Kim convened the Central Committee of his ruling Workers’ Party on Tuesday to assess the state of affairs in his isolated country, and said resolving the food shortage was “a top priority,” according to the official Korean Central News Agency.
“In particular, the people’s food situation is now getting tense as the agricultural sector failed to fulfill its grain production” after flood damage, Mr. Kim was quoted as saying in the meeting. “It is essential for the whole Party and state to concentrate on farming.”
Although it is no secret that North Korea’s economy is in trouble, it is highly unusual for Mr. Kim to acknowledge a national food shortage as publicly and clearly as he did this week.
In its latest assessment of the country’s food insecurity, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization warned that if the country’s food shortage is not covered by imports or foreign aid, “households could experience a harsh lean period between August and October.”
Mr. Kim’s warning came two months after he ordered his party to wage an “arduous march” to relieve the economic pain of his people. The April remarks caught the attention of some outside analysts because the term “arduous march” is usually invoked by the North to refer to a crisis that must be overcome, such as the famine in the 1990s that caused millions of people to die.
So far, no sign has emerged from North Korea that the country is in danger of another devastating famine, but South Korean reporters monitoring market prices in North Korea said that the price of rice has been rising sharply in recent weeks.
Many essential goods, including medicine, are also becoming more scarce, as the pandemic forced North Korea to close its border with China, its only major trading partner, said Jiro Ishimaru, chief editor of Asia Press International, a website in Japan that monitors North Korea with the help of clandestine correspondents inside the country.
Some families have begun selling furniture to raise cash for food, Mr. Ishimaru said. The number of homeless children scavenging for food is also on the rise in some parts of the country, though it is difficult to reliably assess the situation, given North Korea’s isolation, he said.
Mr. Kim’s acknowledgment of North Korea’s food shortage was another sign that his economic policies were not working.
When he took power a decade ago, one of his first promises was to ensure that his long-suffering people would “no longer have to tighten their belt.” But those economic plans suffered a setback when the country’s growing weapons arsenal led to punishing international sanctions. Mr. Kim’s efforts to lift the sanctions went nowhere when his diplomacy with former President Donald J. Trump collapsed in 2019.
When the pandemic and floods hit the country last year, Mr. Kim ordered his country
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