Munich Personal RePEc Archive

Famine in North Korea: Markets, Aid, and Reform

Noland, Marcus and Haggard, Stephan (2007): Famine in North Korea: Markets, Aid, and Reform. Published in:

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A famine in the 1990s killed as many as 1 million North Koreans or roughly 5 percent of the population. North Korean claims that the famine was due primarily to natural disasters and external shocks were misleading in important respects: the decline in food production and the deterioration in internal conditions were visible years before the floods of 1995, but the government was culpably slow to take the necessary steps to guarantee adequate food supplies. With plausible policy adjustments—such as maintaining food imports on commercial terms or aggressively seeking multilateral assistance—the government could have avoided the famine. Instead, it blocked humanitarian aid to the hardest hit parts of the country during the peak of the famine and curtailed commercial imports of food once humanitarian assistance began.

Coping responses by households during the famine contributed to a bottom-up marketization of the economy, in effect, ratified by the economic policy changes introduced by the North Korean government in 2002. What began as a socialist famine arising out of failed agricultural policies and a misguided emphasis on food self-sufficiency has evolved into a chronic emergency more akin to those observed in market economies.

The world community responded to this tragedy with considerable generosity. Yet at virtually every point, the North Korean government placed roadblocks in the way of the donor community, and the relief effort was woefully below international standards in terms of transparency and effectiveness. Up to half of aid deliveries did not reach their intended recipients.

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