By Gawon Bae and Angus Watson, CNN
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has again admitted there is a “food problem” in the country, during a speech which brought an important five-day meeting of his Korean Worker’s Party to a close.
The year-end address, summarized by state media outlet KCNA on Saturday, made brief reference to “emergency epidemic prevention work.”
North Korea has kept quiet throughout the pandemic, cut itself off even more from the rest of the world and has not acknowledged a single domestic case of Covid-19.
The majority of Kim’s speech focused on the need to boost agricultural productivity in the country. He also praised military advances made during his tenth year in power but made no specific mention of South Korea nor the US, other than a short reference to policy directions for inter-Korean relations and external affairs.
While the North Korean leader did not detail the degree of food scarcity, the World Food Organization warned of severe shortages in the country in 2021 including a shortfall of hundreds of thousands of tons of rice.
The problem was compounded by severe flooding in some of the country’s most fertile rice producing regions.
This isn’t the first time that Kim has acknowledged the food situation in the nation over the last 12 months.
In April, KCNA reported Kim urged people to undertake another “Arduous March,” while addressing a top-level political meeting.
The term “Arduous March” refers to a period of devastating famine in the early 1990s, when North Korea’s economy spiraled downward following the collapse of the Soviet Union, which ended the flow of aid into the country.
Hundreds of thousands of people — or as many as 10% of the country’s population — were estimated to have starved to death in this period.
And in June, Kim admitted that the country was facing a “tense food situation” due to 2020’s typhoon and floods. In the same month, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has estimated that North Korea is short of about 860,000 tons of food — which would have been enough for just over two months of supplies.
On Saturday, KCNA also reported Kim’s acknowledgment of “unfavorable conditions this year” and his wish to “increase the agricultural production and completely solve the food problem of the country.”
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