DPRK faces a complex humanitarian crisis driven by political and economic factors, including poor governance, repressive political measures, and isolation from the international community. This compounds the effect of recurrent natural disasters, particularly floods or drought.
Sanctions are a key factor driving the humanitarian crisis. DPRK's long-standing ambitions to develop and own nuclear weapons have led to the imposition of several rounds of economic sanctions aimed at coercing North Korea towards cooperation, yet these also impact on the population's wellbeing and humanitarian needs. Sanctions significantly reduce foreign investment and make the delivery of humanitarian aid more difficult by disrupting banking channels that aid groups rely on to access funds, causing long delays or cancellation of key projects.? A lead-time of six months is required for international procurement and shipping. Delays in procurement and shipping of food commodities due to the sanctions continue to hinder timely implementation.?
Access to affected people in DPRK is severely limited. Humanitarian agencies do not have the ability to access communities freely, conduct assessments, or run monitoring and evaluation processes. All movements in DPRK require official permission, both for aid agencies and DPRK nationals.?
Domestic restrictions on travelling and communication inside and outside of the country tightened in 2017. Borders are heavily guarded by military personnel, CCTV cameras, and barbed wire, and people attempting to cross face severe protection issues when captured. Travel must be planned in advance and in detail. Movement within the country is hampered by the poor quality of road infrastructure outside Pyongyang.?
According to a Human Rights Watch report released in October 2018, sexual violence is rampant in the DPRK and has become an accepted part of ordinary life. According to victims of sexual violence, men in positions of power – including high-ranking party officials, prison guards and interrogators, police, prosecutors and soldiers - choose victims who have no choice other than to comply with demands for sex or other favours, or face harsh consequences.?
food security and livelihoods
The food security situation in the country is fragile and subject to deterioration in case of shocks. Although state services provide food assistance through the government's Public Distribution System (PDS), distributions are reported to be discriminatory and irregular.? Recurrent floods and droughts exacerbate existing vulnerabilities.? International agencies face difficulties in accessing and delivering food aid due to sanctions.?
Food availability in DPRK is very limited, as agricultural production is not sufficient to feed the population. Over-cultivation, a scarcity of quality fertilisers and pesticides, low mechanisation, and low levels of irrigation contribute to low agricultural output.? The rations provided by the government through the PDS are an important source of food availability for 70% of the population, however they do not meet dietary requirements. Overall, around 10.3 million people are undernourished.?
On 9 October 2018, the World Food Programme (WFP) stated it was facing a 73% shortfall in funding for 2018. The lack of funding puts the small gains in nutrition for mothers and children made over the past four years at risk. According to the WHP, limited funding has resulted in the suspension of operations to build resilience among disaster-hit and vulnerable communities.?
Despite the universal health coverage provided by DPRK, the quality of health services is inadequate, with a lack of essential medical equipment, limited professional capacity of health care providers, and a poor health infrastructure.? Diarrhoea related to poor sanitation and malnutrition remains a leading cause of death among young children. Maternal mortality is 50% higher in rural areas than in urban areas, due to inadequate transport and supplies.?
In February 2018, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, announced its plans to end operations in North Korea, The group stated it would no longer work on North Korea projects due to concerns that it could not guarantee its in-country resources were being managed correctly. The Global Fund had been present in DPRK since 2010, funding health projects on tuberculosis and malaria treatment.?
Widespread human rights violations against citizens, including abductions, arbitrary detention, torture, rape, extrajudicial executions, and forced labour are reported in DPRK. Persons who are considered by the authorities to be 'hostile' are discriminated against, and have worse access to employment, shelter, and education.? Women face a range of sexual or gender-based abuses, including rape and other sexual abuses in detention facilities, sexual exploitation, or forced marriages. Other violations include punishment for acts of their husbands or other relatives and torture in detention facilities.?At least four political prison camps that detain 80,000–120,000 people are known to be operational.?