The United Nations human rights expert voiced alarm on Tuesday at “widespread food shortages and malnutrition” in North Korea, made worse by a nearly five-month border closure with China and strict quarantine measures against Covid-19.
Although the authoritarian regime has remained tight-lipped about the potentially life-threatening bug and is yet to report a single case, a UN rights expert has called for urgent action over citizens’ suffering.
The highly secretive state is yet to report any cases of coronavirus, however a UN rights expert is urging the Security Council to look into the dire situation caused when it closed its borders to China
North Koreans are reportedly “starving” after the secretive state closed its borders with China, supposedly in a bid to tackle the deadly coronavirus.
North Korea, where a famine in the mid-1990s is believed to have killed 3 million people, does not report Covid-19 cases to the World Health Organisation.
Tomas Ojea Quintana, UN special rapporteur on human rights in the so-called Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, urged the UN Security Council to reconsider sanctions imposed on the isolated country over its nuclear and missile programmes, so as to ensure food supplies.
Expressing concern about reports of an increase of homeless people in large cities and skyrocketing medicine prices, he said in a statement: “An increasing number of families eat only twice a day, or eat only corn, and some are starving.”
The pandemic has brought “drastic economic hardship” to North Korea, Ojea Quintana said, with a 90% fall in trade with China in March and April leading to lost incomes.
Operations have been suspended outside the capital, leaving vaccine stocks and other aid “stranded” at the border.
Ojea Quintana urged Pyongyang to allow humanitarian aid to be delivered “without restrictions”.
Elisabeth Byrs, spokeswoman for the UN’s World Food Programme, told reporters the humanitarian situation in North Korea remained “bleak”.
He urged North Korea, which is ruled by one of the most totalitarian and oppressive regimes in history, to free prisoners during the pandemic, citing accounts of prisoner deaths caused by hard work, lack of food, contagious diseases and overcrowding.
The WFP hopes to reach 1.2 million people there with food rations this year.
More than 10 million people, or 40% of the population, need humanitarian aid, she said.
Byrs said widespread malnutrition had damaged the health and development of children – with one in five under the age of five stunted – as well as pregnant and nursing mothers.