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.He said resolving the food shortage is “a top priority.” “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 at a meeting with the Central Committee of his ruling Workers’ Party, on Tuesday. Speaking at the party conference, Mr Kim appeared to compare the situation to the devastating 1990s famine, estimated to have killed hundreds of thousands. North Korea’s grain production was estimated to have dropped from 4.64 million tons in 2019 to 4.4 million last year, the Korea Development Institute of the South said. The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization also 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.” The country is in danger of a devastating famine.
The price of corn, the staple diet for most of rural North Korea, has reportedly fluctuated enormously and at times a kilogram of corn has cost more than a month’s wages. Prices of essential food items have skyrocketed in country’s capital Pyongyang, with a kg of bananas selling for $45 (about Rs 3,335), a packet of black tea for $70 (about Rs 5,190) and a packet of coffee for $100 (Rs 7,414). Many essential goods, including medicine, are also becoming more scarce, as the pandemic forced North Korea to close its border with China. Tightly controlled by the government, North Korea’s economy is one of the least free in the world. It is unclear how North Korea can quickly tackle the issue as the country’s borders remain closed due to COVID-19 restrictions.