Seoul: North Korea releases army rice reserves amid shortage

Aug 3, 2021, 12:37 AM | Updated: 9:08 am
FILE - In this June 29, 2021, file photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean lead...

FILE - In this June 29, 2021, file photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks during a Politburo meeting of the ruling Workers' Party in Pyongyang, North Korea. North Korea is releasing emergency military rice reserves as its food shortage worsens, South Korea’s spy agency said Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021, with a heat wave and drought reducing the country's supply. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP, File)

(Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP, File)

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea is releasing emergency military rice reserves as its food shortage worsens, South Korea’s spy agency said Tuesday, with a heat wave and drought reducing the country’s supply.

North Korea’s reported food problems come as its moribund economy continues to be battered by the protracted COVID-19 pandemic. While mass starvation and social chaos have not been reported, observers expect a further deterioration of North Korea’s food situation until the autumn harvest.

Seoul’s National Intelligence Service told a closed-door parliamentary committee meeting that North Korea is supplying rice reserved for wartime use to citizens with little food, other laborers and rural state agencies, according to Ha Tae-keung, one of the lawmakers who attended the session.

Ha cited the NIS as saying an ongoing heat wave and drought have wiped out rice, corn and other crops and killed livestock in North Korea. The NIS said North Korea’s leadership views fighting the drought as “a matter of national existence” and is focusing on increasing public awareness of its campaign, Ha said.

Another lawmaker, Kim Byung-kee, quoted the NIS as saying that North Korea normally needs about 5.5 million tons of food to feed its 26 million people but is currently short 1 million tons. He said the NIS told the lawmakers that North Korea is running out of its grain stockpiles.

The price of rice, the most important crop in North Korea, once doubled from early this year. The price briefly stabilized in July before soaring again, Kim cited the NIS as saying.

Ha said North Korea is trying to control the price of grains to which its public is most sensitive.

Kwon Tae-jin, an expert at the private GS&J Institute in South Korea, said North Korea is likely releasing the military reserves to sell at a cheaper price than at markets to stabilize prices. He said rice prices are “considerably unstable” in North Korea because the government has a limit in how much rice it can supply.

It isn’t the first time that North Korea has released state rice reserves, but the assessment that it doesn’t have much left in its grain stockpiles is worrisome, Kwon said.

North Korea had similar food shortages in past years before the pandemic, according to Kwon, but its needs were met by the smuggling of rice and other grains via its porous border with China. But North Korea’s ongoing pandemic-caused border closure makes it extremely difficult for such smuggling to happen, worsening this year’s food shortage, Kwon said.

The NIS has a spotty record in confirming developments in North Korea, one of the world’s most secretive countries. But its current assessments come after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un admitted his country faces the “worst-ever” crisis due to the pandemic and other difficulties and even a possible dire food shortage.

During a key ruling party meeting in June, Kim urged officials to find ways to boost agricultural production, saying the country’s food situation “is now getting tense.” Earlier, he even compared the ongoing pandemic-related difficulties to a 1990s famine that killed hundreds of thousands of people.

Chinese data show North Korea’s trade with China, its last major ally and biggest trading partner, nosedived by about 80% last year — a result of the North’s strict border closure. South Korea’s central bank said last week that North Korea’s economy is estimated to have shrunk 4.5% last year, the biggest contraction since 1997.

Kwon said North Korea’s current food problem will continue until it harvests corn, rice and other grains in autumn. But he said North Korea isn’t likely to suffer a humanitarian disaster like the 1990s famine, during which he said there was little grain remaining at most markets. Currently, North Korean citizens can still buy grain at expensive prices if they have money, he said.

Other experts say China isn’t likely to allow a massive famine to occur in North Korea. They say China worries about North Korean refugees flooding over the border into China or the establishment of a pro-U.S., unified Korea on its doorstep.

According to the NIS, North Korea wants the United States to relax some of the newer U.N. sanctions imposed over its high-profile weapons tests as a precondition for returning to talks on its nuclear program. They are bans on exporting mineral resources and importing refined oil and high-end liquors and suits. Kim Jong Un, in particular, needs those liquors and suits to distribute to elites in North Korea, Ha cited the NIS as saying.

The two lawmakers said the NIS also believes there is no indication that Kim Jong Un has a health issue, following recent photos that appeared to show a bandage on the back of his head. The NIS said Kim has been actively making public appearances and his movements have appeared normal.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


              South Korea's National Intelligence Service Director Park Jie-won speaks during a plenary meeting of the parliamentary intelligence committee at the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021. North Korea is releasing emergency military rice reserves as its food shortage worsens, South Korea’s spy agency said Tuesday, with a heat wave and drought reducing the country's supply. (Ahn Jung-hwan/Yonhap via AP)
            
              FILE - In this June 29, 2021, file photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks during a Politburo meeting of the ruling Workers' Party in Pyongyang, North Korea. North Korea is releasing emergency military rice reserves as its food shortage worsens, South Korea’s spy agency said Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021, with a heat wave and drought reducing the country's supply. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP, File)
            FILE - In this May 25, 2021, file photo, farmers plant rice at the Namsa Co-op Farm of Rangnang District in Pyongyang, North Korea. North Korea is releasing emergency military rice reserves as its food shortage worsens, South Korea's spy agency said Tuesday, Aug. 3, 2021, with a heat wave and drought reducing the country's supply. (AP Photo/Jon Chol Jin, File)

AP

Associated Press

Fifteen automakers reach automatic braking goals this year

DETROIT (AP) — Fifteen automakers have made life-saving automatic emergency braking standard on nearly all of their new passenger vehicles in the U.S. this year, fulfilling a voluntary commitment made six years ago. That leaves five companies — General Motors, Porsche, Jaguar/Land Rover, Kia and Maserati — still needing to meet the pledge by Aug. […]
8 hours ago
FILE - Singer Celine Dion performs during her Courage tour in Quebec City on Sept. 18, 2019. Dion h...
Associated Press

Celine Dion diagnosed with rare neurological disorder

Celine Dion has put a halt on all performing after being diagnosed with a rare neurological disorder. In an emotional video messages posted in French and English on Thursday on Instagram, Dion said stiff person syndrome was causing spasms that affect her ability to walk and sing. “Unfortunately, the spasms affect every aspect of my […]
8 hours ago
FILE - Nelson Faria Marinho shows a picture of his son Nelson Marinho, who lost his life in the 200...
Associated Press

Families dismayed at trial for Rio-Paris Air France crash

PARIS (AP) — Families of the 228 people killed on a Rio-Paris flight that crashed in 2009 were hoping for justice at last. Instead, they’re wracked with anger and disappointment as a long-awaited trial wraps up Thursday with little sign that anyone will be held accountable. The verdict is expected on April 17 next year. […]
8 hours ago
FILE - A Help wanted sign is displayed in Deerfield, Ill., Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022. The Labor Dep...
Associated Press

US jobless claims up modestly last week

WASHINGTON (AP) — Slightly more Americans filed for jobless claims last week but the labor market remains one of strongest parts of the U.S. economy. Applications for unemployment benefits rose to 230,000 for the week ending Dec. 3, up by 4,000 from the previous week’s 226,000, the Labor Department reported Thursday. The four-week moving average […]
8 hours ago
This Aug. 9 2018 photo provided by Amy Bianchi of Albany, N.Y. shows her with her newborn son, Bray...
Associated Press

Pausing breast cancer treatment for pregnancy appears safe

Young women diagnosed with breast cancer often must delay pregnancy for years while they take hormone-blocking pills. A reassuring new study finds they can take a two-year break from these drugs to get pregnant without raising their short-term risk of cancer coming back. “This is really good news for young women and their doctors and […]
8 hours ago
FILE - Facebook's Meta logo sign is seen at the company headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. on Oct. ...
Associated Press

FTC challenges Meta acquisition of VR company in court

Federal regulators will open their campaign to block Facebook parent Meta’s acquisition of a virtual-reality company, with opening statements beginning Thursday in a San Jose, California, courtroom. In a landmark legal challenge to a Big Tech merger, the Federal Trade Commission has sued to prevent Meta’s acquisition of Within Unlimited and its fitness app Supernatural, […]
8 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

(Photo via MLB's Arizona Fall League / Twitter)...
Arizona Fall League

Top prospects to watch at this year’s Arizona Fall League

One of the most exciting elements of the MLB offseason is the Arizona Fall League, which began its 30th season Monday.
...
Quantum Fiber

Stream 4K and more with powerful, high-speed fiber internet

Picking which streaming services to subscribe to are difficult choices, and there is no room for internet that cannot handle increased demands.
...
Quantum Fiber

How high-speed fiber internet can improve everyday life

Quantum Fiber supplies unlimited data with speeds up to 940 mbps, enough to share 4K videos with coworkers 20 times faster than a cable.
Seoul: North Korea releases army rice reserves amid shortage