For nearly three decades, a chronic food emergency has gripped North Korea. In the 1990s a famine killed up to five per cent of the pre-crisis population.
Pyongyang presses on with its nuclear programme and prestige projects while millions of its citizens remain malnourished. The long-running food crisis is the outcome of decades of economic mismanagement and a political system that absolves its leadership of any real accountability.
Humanitarian activities by the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) and private relief groups constitute the longest ongoing engagement between the hermit state and the international community. But the North Korean regime’s actions create an ethical conundrum which may be reaching its breaking point.
Donor fatigue has set in. The WFP’s assistance requests are grossly undersubscribed and the organization may be forced to shut down its remaining program. And if it tries to soldier on with reduced resources, its ability to monitor its own activities will be badly affected, risking aid diversion and catastrophic scandal.