North Korea’s food shortages are fast approaching the crisis level. Food totals for this year look to be short by 850,000 tons, an amount that equates to two months of demand. So, in this regard the math is quite simple. The government has been surreptitiously warning about a possible shortage for months and encouraging the population to grow its own food. This effort has not been successful and there are now reports of starvation deaths emerging from non-government sources inside North Korea. The state’s food rationing system has collapsed under the strain imposed by the food shortages as well as the COVID-19 pandemic.
With a humanitarian crisis all but assured, North Korea can count on little help from the international community for the time being. Sanctions, COVID and a border that has been closed for an extended period of time have produced an environment that is unconducive for international relief organizations to operate in. Security is also tightening across North Korea as conditions deteriorate. There has been a hard crackdown in border regions to prevent smuggling activities and defections. Food hoarding is another crime which the government is trying to stop. Citizens caught hoarding food will face execution now, according to media sources familiar with the internal situation in North Korea.
The security measures are indicative of a government desperately attempting to keep its country together. Kim Jong Un and his inner circle are keenly aware of how far out on a limb North Korea is right now. The food shortage is just the latest in a series of setbacks and crises in the previous eighteen months. From the pandemic to this food shortage, time could be running out for Kim and his regime. A potential North Korean collapse is one of those nightmare scenarios that could provide the spark for a regional conflict or worse. But unless the situation in the North improves markedly between now and the end of the year, we could very well be looking at an inevitable collapse.