North Korean farmers work in a field of a collective farm in the South Hwanghae province.

Publication Type

North Korea as a complex humanitarian emergency: Assessing food insecurity

Working Papers 22-16
Photo Credit: REUTERS/Damir Sagolj


North Korea is a complex humanitarian emergency with food insecurity at its core. As of August 2022, both quantity and price data point to a deteriorating situation, made worse by the regime’s self-isolating response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine. Food availability has likely fallen below minimum human needs and on one metric is the worst since the 1990s famine. Food insecurity in North Korea is not only a humanitarian issue but also a strategic one. In this context, the diplomatic leverage conferred by aid is unclear, nor is North Korea’s priority as a recipient, in light of competing needs elsewhere. Resolution of North Korea’s chronic food insecurity would require changes in the regime’s domestic and foreign policy commitments, but this seems unlikely due to enablement by China and Russia.

Data Disclosure:

The data underlying this analysis can be downloaded here [zip].

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