May 15, 2019 09:43
Food prices have been on the decline in North Korea for nearly six months, despite claims of an alarming food shortage there.
Rice prices have dropped about 1,000 North Korean won per kg in big cities like Pyongyang over the past six months. There is speculation that either the food shortage is not as severe as the North claims or the regime is controlling prices to quell potential unrest.
In Pyongyang, rice prices have been dropping since last November, when a kilogram cost 5,000 won, ending up at 4,000 won as of April 30, according to the Daily NK. Overall rice prices fell around 1,000 won throughout the North.
On Tuesday Bareun Future Party lawmaker Lee Hye-hoon said the food situation in the North "doesn't seem that serious and is not in an urgent need for humanitarian aid for starving people."
But a source said the regime is releasing military stockpiles into markets, though food supply has also increased thanks to recent arrivals of aid from China and Russia.
Ordinary people can buy food in the market with their own money, but the regime is "short of food for rations for the elite and military," another source said.
Earlier, the World Food Programme forecast a grain shortage of 1.36 million tons in the North this year, while estimating last year's total grain production at 4.9 million tons, a record low since 2009.
But pundits speculate that the actual shortage might not be serious thanks to food reserves and imports from overseas. A researcher at a government-funded think tank here said, "In the past, bad crops resulted directly in a food shortage, but now people better prepared because markets are thriving."
There is also speculation that rice prices have dropped because people have turned to other, less expensive grains.
Yet the South Korean government is adamant that it wants to send food aid to the North as quickly as possible. A Unification Ministry spokesman on Tuesday said Seoul could send food aid to the North between May and September, when the need is greatest. "The WFP's report points out that an opportune time for food aid to the North is the May-September period before the next harvest arrives," he said.
In an apparent bid for support, Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul met with representatives from seven religious groups that play a leading role in delivering humanitarian assistance to the North.
Some American experts have called for thorough on-the-spot inspections of food delivery so they are not diverted to military, as happened often in the past. Roberta Cohen, a former U.S. State Department official, on Sunday said that foreign aid should not subsidize the regime's irresponsibility.
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