Sanctions, fertilizer shortage and African swine flu pose triple threat to North Korea food supply

North Koreans living under strict pandemic restrictions are facing a growing food crisis and the most vulnerable children and elderly people in the isolated Asian nation are at risk of starvation, a U.N. investigator said in a report released Wednesday, according to the Associated Press.

Tomás Ojea Quintana said in the report to the U.N. General Assembly that North Korea’s agriculture sector appears to be facing multiple challenges due to a drop in imports of fertilizer and other agricultural items from neighboring China, the impact of U.N. and international sanctions stemming from its nuclear program, and an outbreak of African swine fever.

He said prolonged and strict pandemic measures since January 2020 have resulted in “severe economic hardship and increased vulnerability to human rights violations among the general population.” The measures include a full-scale border shutdown, travel restrictions between cities and regions, and restricted imports of non-essential supplies including humanitarian goods.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Argentine lawyer said, over 40% of North Koreans were “food insecure,” with many suffering from malnutrition and stunted growth. That number has increased, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, he said, pointing to rising prices for rice and corn in different regions in June and emergency government measures.

North Korea said Monday that leader Kim Jong Un urged officials to overcome the “grim situation” and “unprecedented difficulties” facing the country and make stronger efforts to improve the food and living conditions of his people. State media said that in his speech marking the 76th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers’ Party, Kim confirmed the party’s determination to carry out a five-year plan to boost “the national economy and solving the people’s food, clothing and housing problems.”

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