North Korea (MNN) – The United Nations says in 2018, North Korean food production fell to its lowest level for over a decade, leaving millions without enough to eat.
Days in advance of the failed nuclear summit in Vietnam, the North Korean government cut food rations, appealed for food aid, and claimed half its population was at risk of malnutrition. The government further claimed that sanctions worsened the impact of drought and floods that led to a poor harvest.
The previous UN appeal for USD $111 million in aid saw about a quarter of that come in. Lack of funding meant only being able to help one-third of the six million people estimated to be in need last year. The picture painted is dire.
Sanctions or tourism?
However, Eric Foley, spokesman for the Voice of the Martyrs Korea says there’s another side to this story. First, he addresses the rations cut. “If you were to talk to ordinary people inside North Korea, their response would be ‘What rations?’ The North Korea ration system actually broke down in the early 2000s, and since that point in time, people inside North Korea no longer receive food from the government.”
Noting that, he goes on to say, “The propaganda that we’re being fed is different, depending upon which language we speak. The story comes out in English, and the focus is on this purported idea of cutting rations, and my comment would be, ‘Half of nothing is still nothing.’” (Click here to see what VOM-Korea is doing to help.)
As North Korea’s food security became a problem in the early 2000s, the people realized they needed to rely on themselves for food production. Foley explains, ”They survive through what we call the ‘gray market’, which is, on the face of it, activity which is against the law, but the government not only tolerates it but in some sense, sanctions it and makes it possible because it’s how people avoid starving to death.”
What’s the real story?
The North Korean government says the country faces a shortfall of 1.4 million tons in food production this year, including crops of rice, wheat, potato, and soybean. Tied into networks between the Koreas, what Foley hears leads him to believe that it’s an issue of priorities.
He argues, “North Korea has vastly overstated the food shortage problem. North Korea has, in fact, always been able to provide for its own food security, it’s just how it chooses to use the money.”
It’s true that there are hungry and poor people, he says. On the other hand, he also notes that the propaganda machine is definitely manipulating the story for sympathy and most people outside of the Koreas aren’t even aware of it.
“You have this picture being painted of people going hungry, fainting by the roadside (in English), and in South Korean, you have this picture being painted of beautiful mountain scenery, ski resorts, and mountain hikes.”
He clarifies further that internationally, the goal is relief of sanctions; the goal concerning South Korea is quite different. “South Korea has already supported the removal of sanctions, so the message for the South Korean people is ‘Come on up! It’s time for tourism!’”
What about the Christians?
So how do you figure out what is really going on in North Korea? Foley says realize the North Korean Church is more complex than we sometimes think it to be. The body of Christ in North Korea comprises people from all socio-economic backgrounds. There are the roughly 30,000 Christians in the concentration camps, caught by the ‘zero tolerance’ policy. There are also those who are unknown to the government, a true Underground Church. Those number roughly 70-thousand, he adds.
When evaluating the stories from North Korea, there are a couple of things he suggests we take into consideration. “The North Korea Christians always remind me of this truth: ‘We should never look to government as the solution to the challenges that we face.’”
He goes on to explain that North Korean Christians rarely pontificate about regime changes or have conversations about who they wish was in charge and what government would be best. “I tend to hear that from Christians from the rest of the world talking about North Korea, but North Korean Christians do what the Bible commands. They pray for those in authority. They pray that Kim Jong Un would come to know Christ. That seems to us to be a pointless prayer, but in their view, that is the kind of prayer that requires faith.”
Headline photo courtesy UN Photo/James Bu. www.unmultimedia.org/photo