Woo-bae Sohn, S.J.
According to the report of "The State of Food Insecurity in the World," recently released by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), North Korea has the dubious honor of ranking 11th highest among the nations of the world in the deepest hunger. With only 340 Kcal, North Korea ranks just as same as Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Zambia. This report researched 152 nations of the world.
The food situation in North Korea has recently improved, but this does not mean much since it is true only in comparison to the previous situation in which food was even more insufficient. North Korea still suffers a major insufficiency in food required by its population. I learned from the information about North Korean refugees I met in China earlier this year and from several organizations helping them, that the situation regarding food in North Korea is still very critical. Thus, the UN, the United States, Japan, South Korea and other countries and organizations make many efforts to help provide food to North Korea. I wish we JRS would also do something for them.
North Korean communism is a special variety quite different from that of other communist countries. North Korea is a thoroughly controlled society and totally dependant on one person, Kim Jung-il. He controls all their policies. So human rights are also a serious issue in North Korea. North Korean society is totally isolated from other countries. South Korean people cannot go to North Korea or even exchange letters with relatives in the North. The many separated families in North and South Korea have not met since the Korean War in 1950. Economic difficulties and famine would seem to make the North Korean government open up to the world nowadays, but there are still many political variables. Nonetheless, it is impossible to predict what will happen. However, it is getting easier to enter North Korea, compared with before.

There were serious droughts and floods in North Korea in the mid-1990s.
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These brought about severe food shortages in the country because most of North Korea's arable land was affected. Thus, the North Korean people have had many difficulties to produce good crops. In addition, because of the collapse of Communist countries in Eastern Europe in 1990, North Korea's economy was destroyed. I think that, because the trade with those countries decreased rapidly, the country no longer has the potential to recover from the droughts and floods by itself.


Food insufficiency varies in different parts of North Korea. The situation in the northeast is especially critical because it is mountainous with little arable land. Even the mountainsides are cultivated, with most of the trees having been cut down. This makes floods more likely and more destructive. In this area, people are provided meals only once every two days by the government. This is true, however, only for those who work.
It will be very difficult for North Korea's economy to recover.
A miner told me there is no way to pump water out of mine shafts because there is no electricity. And no pumps available either. Factories near the border are empty shells because everything inside was sold in China to bring in money. Farm machinery and fertilizer are nonexistent. The situation can only continue to deteriorate.
After the serious famine, many homeless children who lost their parents wander around the country. Adults too. They judge it better to die going to China than to die from starvation in North Korea. They know that many people died on the way and that North Korean police killed some at the border. Still many hungry people sneak into China from North Korea looking for food.


There are from 100,000 to 200,000 North Korean refugees in Yanji. Nobody knows for sure how many because they must hide from the Chinese police. If the police find them, they are sent back to North Korea and, tragically, abused by the North Korean police. They beg from the Chinese people. In winter, especially the temperature goes down to 20-30 degrees below zero. This makes things even more difficult.

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Currently, NGOs, Protestant, Buddhist and Catholic groups help the refugees. They stock food and clothes near the border to give to refugees whenever they come. They offer shelter and protection to refugees in some places and even provide some education.
Workers provide a few necessities of life (e.g., soap, basic medicines and the like) to refugees and also to people in North Korea itself. They provide employment to some refugees in a soap factory. They go into North Korea directly with rice and other necessities. While it is next to impossible for South Korean nationals to enter North Korea because of the political situation, it is easy for Chinese, Americans and ex-patriot Koreans. So, I think it would be easier for South Koreans to enter North Korea in the name of JRS. Mercy Corps, an American Protestant NGO, has an office even in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, and is quite active in Yanji. They care for around 200 people, run farms for North Korea and provide food for refugees and North Koreans. They also have a good relationship with the Chinese police.
And, some Protestant group built a hospital and nursery in North Korea.
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in Yanji
We can help refugees in cooperation with the Chinese Church and organizations such as Mercy Corps with food, clothing, protection, education and so forth. It is likely that, after a year or two, a Korean Jesuit priest will reside in Yanji to work for North Koreans. Mercy Corps has asked us to help with education programs about human values and the like. They also asked for books in Korean since there is no Korean-language press there.
Nowadays, after the summit between North and South Korea, the concern of the Korean people for the refugees from North Korea is decreasing. If support from South Korea decreases, many refugees will lose the support they currently have. Mercy Corps is worried about this and is planning how to receive and protect such refugees. We could assist with Mercy Corps in this area. The Chinese Church has difficulty in helping refugees since they cannot plan in a systematic way because support from South Korea is unpredictable. Thus, they need dependable support.
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in North Korea
As I mentioned above, South Koreans cannot easily enter North Korea. If we could enter in the name of JRS, however, it would be easier, I think. We could build hospitals or some other needed facilities. Or we could provide food directly, or provide education about farming techniques and other technical areas to improve the economy and alleviate poverty and starvation. The North Korean government does not seem to be concerned about religion. In fact, a Korean-Chinese priest from Yanji entered North Korea in his Roman collar to provide food for the starving. North Korean officials welcomed him.
If we help the North Koreans inside their country, in fact, we do not help the refugees from North Korea, but we will be able to deal with the problem of the refugees from its source.
Conclusion
The most serious problem in North Korea is human waste. The word "love" disappeared long ago. This can be easily seen in the refugees in Yanji. They fight with, deceive and do not believe each other. They refer to the serious famine of 1997-8 as "the period of the purge of fools." By this they mean that all the weak and all the good people who thought about others were fools since they died. Only the strong and those who were clever enough to fend for themselves survived. Only the selfish and self-centered made it. It is difficult to find "love" in such a milieu.
The most impressive experience I had in Yanji was when I met a couple who are members of the North Korean Communist Party. They came to Yanji to search for their daughter. She had gone to Yanji for food, but they heard that she had been sold to someone. They were at least upper-middle class people in North Korea, members of the Communist Party, high school teachers. But they also had no food. Their two sons had died from famine. One of them, a six-year old, said, "Mom, I want to die just after getting enough to eat only once," just before he died. I was so sad when I heard this from his mother. How is it possible that a real human person could only dream of having a full meal? The son died like that. And when they said they had eaten the soup made with tree bark, they wept as miserably as anyone I have ever seen. However, we were able to speak with our hearts.
I hope our JRS will also do something for the refugees in Yanji and North Korean also. They are really poor and need the love of Jesus Christ.


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