Korean famine calls for unilateral relief

Mother Nature has ravaged Korea. Long droughts and massive floods destroyed some 1.2 million tons of maize and 600,000 tons of rice in the country, and last year’s grain output is on the verge of total depletion. The secretive Korean Central News Agency, the only news agency representing the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, is breaking its usual silence, reporting that all Korean people have been mobilized in a joint effort with the United Nations and the World Food Program to provide desperately needed relief. Food distribution is down to 100 grams per person, and this will barely last through March.
Famine is not North Korea’s only problem. Because of North Korea’s secretive nature, it’s hard to tell fact from fiction in terms of reported numbers. The world is suspicious, as it should be. North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang, is suspected of trying to gain international sympathy as well as trying to test the new South Korean government. During years of floods and droughts causing massive starvation, with both Korean economies collapsing, this is no time for politics. The state-run economy has collapsed, and Koreans suffer severe shortages of fuel, fertilizer and other basic necessities.
So far the United States has pledged 200,000 tons of goods, but Koreans won’t get it for a month. Last year, Washington donated 170,000 tons of food to North Korea. Despite South Korea’s own financial hardships and a people very distrustful of its Stalinist rival, newly elected president Kim Dae Jung is pledging humanitarian aid. Many observers believe the lack of humanitarian effort on the part of the international community is because North Korea is a nation that spends most of its resources on one of the world’s largest military forces. These forces are currently active along the Demilitarized Zone that divides the Korean Peninsula. There is also a prevailing fear of North Korea’s nuclear weapons capabilities. The Atomic Energy Agency estimates North Korea is capable of producing 30 atomic bombs a year and already has an unknown number of SCUD missiles. South Korea’s pledge to give humanitarian aid is a noble effort considering the North’s repeated threats of war.
North Korea is a confused and hurt society. The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 caused the loss of numerous subsidies and supplies. While children in their country die of starvation, North Korean officials still refuse to allow aid groups or journalists into the areas suffering most, so no one knows how bad things really are. Suffice it to say, things are bad enough, regardless of distorted facts and figures. But hope hovers over the horizon. Intelligence reports reveal that the Red Cross has been delivering hand-written messages across the Demilitarized Zone, as North Korea attempts to renew peace negotiations.
Locked in constant conflict ever since the Korean war, North and South Korea must put aside their power struggles and attend to more important matters, like surviving. Hope is possible with the upcoming Geneva talks in March between the United States, the two Koreas and China. And with South Koreans pledging humanitarian aid and North Koreans sending handwritten messages across its borders, an end to war and starvation is possible with the unilateral commitment to humanity’s endurance.