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21 May 2020

Is North Korea heading for another famine?

Experts on North Korea fear that the country is heading for another famine - like the one that killed 2-3 million North Koreans in the 1990s. The authorities refuse to confirm a coronavirus outbreak, but the borders remained closed.


21 May 2020

According to the North Korean government, there is no coronavirus outbreak in the country. But few commentators believe that North Korea can have escaped the virus, as is suggested by border restrictions imposed: no foreigners are allowed into the country and North Korean citizens are not permitted to move. Experts on North Korea worry that the current situation will lead to another ‘Arduous March’, as the North Korean people call the great famine of the 1990s. An estimated 2-3 million people died because of that famine.

“Amid the border restrictions continue in North Korea, the shortages of food have quadrupled market prices”, says Timothy*, a North Korean Christian who escaped the country and now works for Open Doors. “According to a recent DailyNK report, many individual shops are now closed or are unable to sell goods because they simply have nothing to sell. For example, it’s hard to find sugar in the shops or markets, and a can with 100g of Chinese pepper has gone up to 4,000 from 8000 Korean won (£5.32).”

North Korea

North Korea, photo taken from across the border with China

Starvation and malnutrition

Open Doors sources also report that market prices are unstable and often skyrocketing. Markets are open, but most people don’t have any money to buy anything. “North Koreans are dependent on things they can find in the woods or the mountains,” says an Open Doors spokesperson. 

Sadly, our contacts also report that many North Koreans have already died due to malnutrition and starvation. 

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation reported on 18 May that North Korea has a shortage of 860,000 ton of grains. This hasn’t affected North Korea’s decision to keep its borders closed. Even illegal smuggling at the border with China is 

“Many goods are smuggled from China and through North Korea before they end up on the black markets,” says the spokesperson. “The official economy was already in a coma, but now the shadow economy has also taken a huge hit, putting the lives of millions of children and adults at risk.”

How is this affecting Open Doors’ work?

Usually, Open Doors is able to use networks in China to keep thousands of North Korean Christians alive. At the moment, this is not possible in the same way. 

“Our teams are getting ready to distribute food secretly, but North Koreans need to be able to come to us,” says the spokesperson, who is closely involved with the Open Doors North Korea team. “We always say that prayer is just as important as giving. So we really need the prayers and financial support of our donors. We need both and can’t have one without the other.”

Every relief package in the hands of a North Korean Christian will save a family, he continues. “One time I stood at the Chinese – North Korean border. I could see a village and I knew there were secret believers over there. I felt so discouraged that all we could do, was give them some food and sometimes some Christian materials. 

“But then I remembered a message we received from one of them. This person wrote, “Thanks to your help, I know that God hasn’t forgotten us”. This is how God reminded me that we don’t bring bags with rice. We bring hope.”

Please pray:

  • For North Korean Christians to stand firm in their faith and see the hope of Christ every day
  • That there would not be a famine in the country
  • That Open Doors’ networks in China would be able to reach those needing sustenance, despite obstacles
  • That authorities in North Korea would have their hearts opened to the truth of Jesus and His love, and that will lead them to care for the millions of people living under starvation and persecution.

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