After returning from our recent project monitoring trip, one question in particular keeps bothering me, and I have not found a good answer to it yet: Just how severe are the current food shortages in North Korea? On the one hand, this is nothing new: March through June has always been the most difficult time, when everyone is forced to cut back because supplies have dwindled or run out completely. Corn, potatoes and rice are planted on every free parcel of land. These people are not strangers to hard work for sure! Now the government has requested food aid once again. It frustrates me to see that this country is still not capable of providing for its own people. In light of this request for help from the government, I am a bit puzzled to see that our contact people look remarkably healthy and the orphans we visited seemed quite fit and lively. We were served new potatoes at meals and saw various stands selling cookies, soft drinks and ice cream. The herds of goats at our former project locations are flourishing; yoghurt is being produced and distributed to local day care facilities. Other foreigners whom we know, who have many years of experience with North Korea, are also confused, because they do not see that the situation is significantly different this year.
At the same time, one reads credible reports describing people weakened by hunger, who can no longer leave their homes and eventually die of common infections or diseases, because their immune systems have been so severely compromised. Still, it is nearly impossible to get a clear picture of the true conditions in North Korea. So I decide to simply be thankful that we were able to bring help during the period before the new harvest.
The time traveling through the countryside encouraged me to remain involved with long-term, focused projects, which truly make a difference! Still today, we were served delicious yoghurt at many locations, the vegetable gardens and pastures in Byong Pung Dok are a lush green and wind mills produce enough energy to load many batteries per day for in-home use. If we are ever so lucky to be given another shipping container full of free supplies again, we know where to find grateful recipients.