Crisis Severity The severity score from 1 to 5 is based on 31 indicators aggregated into 3 pillars (impact, conditions, and complexity)3.70 Very lowVery high 5
Impact This measures the impact of the crisis itself, in terms of the scope of its geographical, and human effects.4.00 Very lowVery high 5
Humanitarian Conditions This measures the conditions and status of the people affected, including info about the distribution of severity.4.50 Very lowVery high 5
Complexity This measures the complexity of the crisis, in terms of factors that affect its mitigation or resolution.2.30 Very lowVery high 5
Access Constraints This measures the level of humanitarian access constraints.3.0No constraintsExtreme constraints
The humanitarian situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is driven by political and economic factors as well as natural hazards. Chronic food insecurity and limited access to basic services, such as healthcare and clean water, have left more than 10 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. Information gaps on the general situation within the country and limited humanitarian access make it difficult to carry out regular assessments of humanitarian needs and key priorities, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic. In May 2022, the DPRK confirmed the detection of COVID-19 cases and a fever outbreak in the country and a strict national lockdown and border control measures followed.?
Poor economic governance and repressive internal political measures have negatively impacted the country’s population. In January 2021, Kim Jong-un declared that the country’s five-year economic plan had failed to meet targets in almost all sectors, and in the future the DPRK is expected to reduce its reliance on imports and instead increase reliance on internal production. Restrictions on movement and limited access to goods and services, including humanitarian aid, have gradually increased humanitarian needs. Despite exemptions for humanitarian aid, international sanctions have resulted in shortages of humanitarian funding, supplies, and personnel, delaying project implementation.?
The DPRK is regularly affected by heavy seasonal rains, flooding, typhoons, and other natural disasters. In August and September 2020, it experienced one of its wettest periods since 1981 resulting from extensive rainfall and three typhoons. The main agricultural producing area – the south – was severely affected by flooding, which disrupted the harvesting season and resulted in the depletion of reserve grains. In September 2019, Tropical Cyclone Lingling destroyed farmlands in North and South Hwanghae and South Hamgyong provinces – the same areas that were later affected by the 2020 flooding. The impact of natural hazards contributes to high food insecurity in the country.?
No significant recent humanitarian developments. This crisis is being monitored by our analysis team.
Humanitarian access has remained stable with high access constraints in the DPRK. For decades, the DPRK has been implementing the songbun system, a sociopolitical classification system that favours groups labelled as more loyal to the ruling party. This system discriminates against specific groups and limits their access to employment, schools, quality public services, markets, and domestic travel, among others, affecting people’s equitable access to services and opportunities. Along with the songbun classification, forced internal resettlement is also common, often to rural areas, moving people away from services and potential aid.
Freedom of movement has been highly restricted in the country, and it is illegal to move from one province to another or travel abroad without prior approval. The announcement of the first reported COVID-19 case in May 2022 led to strengthened COVID-19 containment measures, with the implementation of a strict national lockdown and border closures resulting in heightened movement restrictions for the population and negative effects on both trade and the remaining humanitarian response. Since April 2021, there has been no UN foreign staff or INGO staff left in the country. International aid organisations have been relying on regional staff to distribute aid throughout the country, potentially increasing government control over distribution and subsequently increasing the likelihood of misdistribution of aid.
A weak health system that lacks qualified medical staff and equipment continues to constrain access to essential health and WASH facilities and services in the country, especially in rural areas. It has been reported that the DPRK has had very few confirmed COVID-19 cases because of its limited testing capacity; the country reported around 4.8 million fever cases. The DPRK has declined multiple offers of COVID-19 vaccine shipments.
For more information you can consult our latest Global Humanitarian Access Overview – December 2022.
Food: 11–16 million (45–60% of the total population) are estimated to be food-insecure and the prevalence of chronic malnutrition among children under five years of age was estimated at 18%. The food insecurity and malnutrition situation is driven by insufficient agricultural production, inability to access a variety of food, and recurrent natural disasters. Lack of recent data makes it difficult to assess the conditions of those who are food insecure.?
Health: Around 9 million people lack access to adequate health facilities. There is a particular lack of equipment, medicines, and specialist staff to address the needs of children under five, pregnant women, people with communicable diseases, and people living with disabilities.?
WASH: Around 8.5 million people lack access to safe water sources. Basic sanitation facilities are a high priority – especially in rural areas, where nine out of ten people lack facilities for the safe disposal of human waste.?
Protection: Forced labour, torture, disappearances, and arbitrary arrests are often reported across the country. Women are at risk of being trafficked into neighbouring countries for forced marriage and sexual or labour exploitation.?
The DPRK closed its borders with China and Russia in January 2020 to stop the spread of COVID-19. Trade with China – a major partner –was reduced in 2021 by 80%. Strict COVID-19 containment measures persist within the country, including quarantines for cargo entering the country. The strict containment measures issued by the DPRK are expected to have long-term consequences on the economy as trade, imports/exports, aid, and livelihood opportunities have been disrupted. A reliance on domestic products has resulted in the depletion of food sources and higher levels of food insecurity. ?
The DPRK has not accepted any COVID-19 vaccines. Since the beginning of the pandemic, there have been no COVID-19 cases confirmed by the Government.?
In May 2022, the DPRK confirmed the detection of COVID-19 cases and a fever outbreak in the country. A strict national lockdown and border control measures followed. The DPRK announced the confirmed COVID-19 cases soon after the virus peaked in the Chinese province of Jilin in late March. The DPRK shares a significant portion of its border with the province; both countries conduct land trade through this border. Around 4.8 million cumulative fever cases (nearly 20% of the country’s total population) were reported in the DPRK as at 31 August 2022. ?
UPDATE FROM THE FEBRUARY 2022 RISK ANALYSIS
MEDIUM RISK LEVEL
The detection of COVID-19 cases causes the Government to (re-)enact strict border controls, worsening food insecurity and decreasing food consumption and nutritional diversity levels among the most vulnerable
This risk has materialised as raised in March. In May 2022, the DPRK confirmed the detection of COVID-19 cases and a fever outbreak in the country. A strict national lockdown and border control measures followed?. The DPRK announced the confirmed COVID-19 cases soon after the virus peaked in the Chinese province of Jilin in late March. The DPRK shares a significant portion of its border with the province; both countries conduct land trade through this border?. Around 4.8 million cumulative fever cases (nearly 20% of the country’s total population) were reported in the DPRK as at 31 August 2022?. Newer restrictions in the country and by China, its largest trading partner by far, have restricted the inflow of essential items into the country?. The new restrictions are believed to have affected the already dire food insecurity and nutritional deficiency levels in the country, especially among the most vulnerable, including the children and the elderly?. In 2020–2021, the food-insecure population was estimated to be 11–16 million (45–60% of the total population) and the prevalence of chronic malnutrition among children under five years of age was estimated at 18%?. Rice is a staple food in the country, with corn being the cheaper alternative. The prices of both have increased in recent months, with more people possibly being unable to buy food?.
Read the February 2022 Risk Analysis here.