Effective aid can prevent a looming food crisis in North Korea

This summer’s heatwave in North Korea has dried out the maize harvest and made the undernourished population even more dependent on outside help, the managing director of Mission East concludes after visiting the country. Mission East secures the water supply and makes agriculture more efficient.

A new, serious food crisis is looming in North Korea. This summer’s heatwave brought temperatures of up to 40 degrees for a whole month and dried out the country’s maize fields. The harvest is expected to be reduced by 30 per cent.

“I have seen miles and miles of dried-out maize fields. I have seen corn cobs that are only a tenth of the size that they should be. I have seen the concern in the farmers’ eyes. Maize usually covers between 30 and 50 per cent of their food needs," says Mission East’s managing director, Dr. Kim Hartzner who has just returned from North Korea.

Ten million North Koreans are vulnerable to disease

A failed harvest will severely affect the population. Forty per cent – or ten million people – are already chronically undernourished. Every fourth child under five years old is malnourished and vulnerable to serious illnesses. Four per cent of children under five years old – about 50,000 children – urgently need help, as they risk dying because of lack of nutrition.

The population needs help – emergency relief as well as development assistance, Kim Hartzner says:

”Vulnerable groups need food aid right now, particularly children under five years old, pregnant and breastfeeding women, the elderly and people in poor health. The sad thing is that crisis like these always affect the most vulnerable. They suffer from circumstances that they cannot influence.

Tree planting and agriculture go hand in hand

Apart from emergency relief, there is also a need for long term food security, he says. Therefore, Mission East is involved in agricultural and water projects.

- We plant trees on slopes in order to aviod soil erosion when tyfoons flood the mountains. This year a nursery that we have helped has been able to plant three million small trees on 500 hectares of slopes in a remote mountain area. The North Korean government has permitted the farmers to keep the crops that they can cultivate on slopes with an angle of inclination of more than 15 degrees. This is an important contribution to increasing food security.

Mission East also provides materials to build greenhouses and sun protection screens in the fields.

Haunted by the sight of malnourished children

Mission East has also secured the water supply for hundreds of families and children.

"Forty per cent of the population does not have access to clean drinking water, but has to collect water from rivers and ponds. This makes them ill as they catch diarrhea and are at risk from water-borne diseases. Only half of the schools have running water. Thankfully, we have been able to provide clean water for 400 families. I visited a school in an area where we have built a water system which provides clean drinking water for 350 school children."

But we can do a lot more, Kim Hartzner urges.

We can help a lot more!

Now Dr. Hartzner hopes that a quick and effective effort can prevent a similar food crisis:

“We ought to do a lot more! When a country suffers, it is human beings, children and extremely vulnerable families that suffer. My attitude is that we must be able to help them!

His experience is that the assistance is appreciated and that the projects are carried out:

“I have traveled around and inspected the systems that we have paid for. Everything is as it should be and it is implemented very well. They have been thorough and competent. This means that it is possible to carry out effective relief work in North Korea. But we do depend on private donations, Dr. Hartzner concludes.