Kim tells North Korea officials to boost living standards as food crisis deepens

Kim Jong Un has demanded that officials boost North Korea’s living standards as his regime struggles to come to grips with a self-acknowledged “food crisis”.

Addressing a gathering on Sunday to mark the 76th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, Kim acknowledged the “unprecedented difficulties” and “grim situation” faced by the country.

North Korea is labouring under the combined effects of international sanctions, self-imposed border closures and a miserable harvest after crops were damaged by heatwaves and flash flooding.

Kim proclaimed his determination to pursue the goals of a five-year plan designed to boost the economy and solve “the people’s food, clothing and housing problems”, according to North Korea’s official state news agency.

The dictator has acknowledged the comprehensive failure of his country’s policies, admitting in January that “almost all sectors fell a long way short of the set objectives” over the previous five years, and that Pyongyang would have to digest the “bitter lessons” of failure.

In June, the North Korean regime admitted during a documentary broadcast on state television that the ruling party was seeking to establish “an emergency policy on overcoming the current food crisis”, while Kim urged officials in September “to fully mobilise the labour force” to “improve grain transport”.

Apart from a tough international sanctions regime, the country has been battling to overcome the effects of sealing off its own borders with China and Russia in response to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

Pyongyang has not admitted to any cases of Covid-19 within the country. But last month, the World Health Organization confirmed that it had started shipping “essential Covid-19 supplies” to North Korea from Dalian, a Chinese port.

Last week Reuters reported that Tomas Ojea Quintana, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, had called for sanctions imposed by the UN to “be reviewed and eased when necessary to both facilitate humanitarian and life-saving assistance and to enable the promotion of the right to an adequate standard of living of ordinary citizens”.

In a report that is expected to be released this month, Quintana is said to have decried the world’s “creeping apathy” towards the plight of North Korea’s population.

Ned Price, the US state department spokesperson, insisted last week that Washington supported efforts to alleviate humanitarian suffering in North Korea, but emphasised its position that Kim’s government remained principally responsible for its citizens’ suffering.

“The regime continues to exploit its own citizens, to violate their human rights, to divert resources from the country’s people to build up its unlawful [weapons of mass destruction] and ballistic missiles programme,” said Price.

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