The People of North Korea: Peace, Reconciliation, Hunger
by Youngsook C. Kang and Gail V. Coulson
The Korean peninsula,
with a 5000-year history as one people and culture with common ethnic origins,
language, and traditions, was annexed as a Japanese Protectorate in 1910. The
liberation of the peninsula from Japanese occupation in 1945, after World War
II, left a geopolitical vacuum. Forces from the
A People Divided
After the Korean War,
the 38th parallel became known as a demilitarized zone (DMZ), which extends
over a mile on either side of the military demarcation line (MDL). About
600,000 North Korean soldiers are stationed 35 miles from
Families on both
sides of the DMZ, divided by the war, did not know who had survived. They had
no contact at all. More than five decades later, after the dissolution of the
Genuine security and
peace in the region requires that the armistice be replaced by a peace
agreement that formally ends the Korean War and provides a foundation for a
Apart from the DMZ,
the DPRK shares a border with the People’s Republic of
sustained their faith through the turbulent times in
The tragedy of the 58-year division is deepened by the 2002-2003 international stand-off concerning nuclear arms. This causes tremendous concern and suffering for both South and North.
Since 1950, US
sanctions have been in place against
Energy is a
continuing problem for
According to the US
Assistant Secretary of State for
Bleak Economic Conditions
The DPRK, facing desperate economic conditions, is one of the world’s most centrally planned and isolated economies. Much of its industry is beyond repair as a result of years of underinvestment and shortages. Both industry and power output have declined. Despite a rare good harvest in 2001, the nation faces its ninth year of food shortages owing to a lack of arable land, collective farming, weather-related problems (including a major drought in 2000), and chronic shortages of fertilizer and fuel. International food aid deliveries have allowed the population to escape mass starvation since 1995, but the population remains vulnerable to prolonged malnutrition and deteriorating living
conditions. Ever-present defense concerns mean that large-scale military spending eats up the resources needed for investment and civilian consumption.
Recently, the DPRK
placed emphasis on earning hard currency, developing information technology,
addressing power shortages, and attracting foreign aid, but it will not pursue
these goals at the expense of relinquishing central control over key national
assets or under going widespread market-oriented reforms. Some privatization
and development of a Special Economic Zone bordering
The lack of peace and appropriate government policy in the Korean peninsula stands cruelly in the way of overcoming widespread starvation. Reports in recent years estimate that at least one million people have died from famine and disease. Life expectancy of males in 2002 was 68 years, and that of females, 72 years.
The entire Korean
peninsula is the size of
Permanent crops are minimal, as farming is hampered by climatic extremes. Long, bitterly cold, dry winters and short, hot, humid summers are the norm. Too often, there are late spring droughts followed by severe flooding and occasional typhoons in the early fall. Water pollution, an inadequate supply of potable water, water-borne disease, deforestation, and soil erosion are chronic problems. Successive years of mono-cropping led to declining yields and created desperation in finding even marginal land for food production. In harsh conditions, frantic searches for household fuel have devastated hillsides through rapid deforestation.
DPRK lacks sufficient capital to pay for commodities required to meet the chronic grain shortage. There is no functioning industrial sector for fertilizer production, irrigation, farm mechanization, or the development of food-processing facilities. The transport sector, essential for delivery of fertilizers and seeds and for distribution of produce to areas with greater food deficits, is nonfunctional.
North Korean Recovery
assistance, development solutions with realistic targets based on available
financial and human resources, advocacy, and realistic programmatic response
are vital for
Finding acceptable economic and cultural solutions to help North Korean families, primarily the more vulnerable women, children, and elderly, demands fresh energy. There must be assurances that humanitarian assistance will reach the sectors of the population in greatest need. Gaining access for monitoring and evaluating humanitarian aid and finding support for local capacity building is crucial, as distribution of assistance goes where access is granted.
The humanitarian response to the emergency in the DPRK is about human development, which starts with meeting people’s basic needs and rights. They can then expand their choices to solve problems through their own initiatives and strategies.
In recognition that the family is the community’s basic cell, the overarching goal for humanitarian partners during 2003 is preserving lives and promoting the well-being of vulnerable populations, including children and women, through an integrated, rights-based strategy.
The United Nations estimates that 4.4 million people are vulnerable to a national food supplies gap of more than one million metric tons. Children under the age of seven are at high risk for disease and possible death from malnutrition and poor growth because of food shortages in the region. The 420,000 pregnant or nursing women receiving poor nutrition are at high risk of developing iron deficiencies and anemia. Reproductive health services are inadequate, leading to increased maternal mortality. Reduced learning capacity and decreased quality of education affect 3.9 million children. Nearly all of the population is at risk from inadequate food and a lack of essential social services, in particular, health, water, sanitation, and education.
In addition to a decade of crop failure brought on by mono cropping, drought, and flooding, vulnerable North Koreans were further weakened because they suffered a harsh winter without fuel. The United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs warns that unless there is a sustained recovery in the North Korean economy, this crisis, now in its tenth year, will not be overcome.
United Methodist Support
During the height of
Though the UMC support for continuing North Korea emergency relief drastically declined over the past three years, UMCOR partnered with the Korean UMC Reunification and Reconciliation committee to support two noodle factories and
provide boots for children’s homes through the Korean Christians Federation and the Aiding Committee of Overseas Koreans.
We pray that United
Methodists and Christians around the world will resume humanitarian support for
* Gail V. Coulson, who previously served as the United Methodist China Program Liaison in Hong Kong, is an executive secretary for Asia Pacific, and Youngsook Charlene Kang is the Deputy General Secretary for Mission Contexts and Relationships at the General Board of Global Ministries.
Date posted: Jul 14, 2003