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Famine in North Korea Redux?

  • Stephan Haggard


    (University of California, San Diego Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies)

  • Marcus Noland


    (Peterson Institute for International Economics)

In the 1990s, 600,000 to 1 million North Koreans, or about 3 to 5 percent of the precrisis population, perished in one of the worst famines of the 20th century.North Korea is once again poised on the brink of famine. Although the renewed provision of aid is likely to avert a disaster on the scale of the 1990s, hunger-related deaths are already occurring and a dynamic has been set in motion that will carry the crisis into 2009. North Korea is a complex humanitarian emergency characterized by highly imperfect information. This paper triangulates quantity and price evidence with direct observation to assess food insecurity in North Korea and its causes. We critique the widely cited UN figures and present original data on grain quantities and prices. These data demonstrate that for the first time since the 1990s famine, the aggregate grain balance has gone into deficit. Prices have also risen steeply. The reemergence of pathologies from the famine era is documented through direct observation. Although exogenous shocks have played a role, foreign and domestic policy choices have been key.

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Paper provided by Peterson Institute for International Economics in its series Working Paper Series with number WP08-9.

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Date of creation: Oct 2008
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:iie:wpaper:wp08-9
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  1. Marcus Noland, 2004. "Korea after Kim Jong-il," Peterson Institute Press: All Books, Peterson Institute for International Economics, number pa71.
  2. Kim, Woon Keun & Lee, Hyunok & Sumner, Daniel A, 1998. "Assessing the Food Situation in North Korea," Economic Development and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, vol. 46(3), pages 519-35, April.
  3. Marcus Noland, 2003. "Famine and Reform in North Korea," Working Paper Series WP03-5, Peterson Institute for International Economics.
  4. Noland, Marcus & Robinson, Sherman & Wang, Tao, 2001. "Famine in North Korea: Causes and Cures," Economic Development and Cultural Change, University of Chicago Press, vol. 49(4), pages 741-67, July.
  5. Marcus Noland, 2000. "Avoiding the Apocalypse: The Future of the Two Koreas," Peterson Institute Press: All Books, Peterson Institute for International Economics, number 94.
  6. Stephan Haggard & Marcus Noland & Erik Weeks, 2008. "North Korea on the Precipice of Famine," Policy Briefs PB08-6, Peterson Institute for International Economics.
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