Crisis Severity The severity score from 1 to 5 is based on 31 indicators aggregated into 3 pillars (impact, conditions, and complexity)3.80 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.2.40 Very lowVery high 5
Access Constraints This measures the level of humanitarian access constraints.3.0No constraintsExtreme constraints
DPRK: Humanitarian needs in the context of COVID-19
CrisisInSight: Global Risk Report
Humanitarian Access Overview
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.?
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.?
INFORM considers the DPRK to be at a high risk of humanitarian crisis, with a score of 5.4/10. Lack of coping capacity is the biggest concern, with a score of 6.3/10.?
The DPRK announced its first COVID-19 outbreak on 12 May 2022, followed by a renewed national lockdown. Between the end of April and 17 May, state media reported that around 1.5 million were suffering from fever and 56 people had died. The lack of diagnostic testing facilities makes it difficult to estimate if the cases are all COVID-19-related. The DPRK has relied on strict lockdowns and quarantine measures since 2020 and has not yet accepted any vaccines for its population of 26 million. Humanitarian response is likely to continue being delayed by these strict containment measures, including bans on internal travel. The public health infrastructure lacks sufficient medicines and medical supplies to respond to the outbreak. In 2019, an estimated 40% of the total population was food-insecure. Strict border control measures since early 2020 have heavily depleted food stocks, worsening the food security and nutrition situation in the country. ?
For more information on the impact of COVID-19 on the DPRK, check out our Global Risk Analysis from March 2022.
very high constraints
Humanitarian access remains highly constrained, particularly because of severe governmental COVID-19 containment measures in place since the beginning of the pandemic. The DPRK Government has not purchased nor accepted any COVID-19 vaccinations in the last six months, relying on strict border closures instead to contain the spread of the virus. This has resulted in disruptions to trade, the unavailability of essential goods and services, and restrictions on movement and humanitarian response.
As at April 2021, most UN/INGO staff and many diplomats have left the country because of the difficult living conditions. The DPRK has acknowledged facing economic hardship and food shortages, but there are other persistent factors for the chronic food insecurity and the complex humanitarian crisis other than the pandemic, including highly centralised governance with the aim of a self-sufficient economy, international sanctions, and frequent natural disasters, including dry spells, floods, and typhoons. Access to essential health and WASH facilities in the DPRK remains constrained by weak infrastructure and the lack of qualified medical staff and equipment, particularly in rural areas. Equitable access to services and opportunities is limited by a sociopolitical citizen classification system called ‘songbun’ that favours groups labelled as more loyal to the ruling party.
Read more in the latest ACAPS Humanitarian Access Overview.
Low agricultural productivity, natural disasters and weather shocks, unsustainable economic and agricultural practices, and international sanctions against the DPRK’s nuclear programme drive a complex crisis in the country, in which chronic food insecurity is a prominent component.? In 2019, an estimated 40% of the total population was food insecure, with people largely depending on food distributions managed entirely by the Government to obtain food.? In January 2020, the Government introduced strict containment measures against COVID-19, including closing the land border with China.? Related restrictions between 2019–2021 have caused China’s trade with the DPRK to drop by 90% and constrained the import of aid, both of which the DPRK relies on to cover chronic food shortages.? In 2021, the 2021–2031 International Food Security Assessment model by the US Department of Agriculture estimated 63% of the population to be food insecure.? In January 2022, the DPRK resumed limited trade and aid imports following delays related to prolonged quarantine measures, but some urgently needed aid supplies, including food, remained blocked.? There are significant information gaps around the severity of needs in the DPRK, but increased food insecurity and malnutrition caseloads and mortality rates are likely in 2022.? The DPRK has not accepted any COVID-19 vaccinations, relying instead on severe preventative measures to contain the disease.? Although the DPRK reports no COVID-19 cases to date, an outbreak remains a possibility, especially with the necessary slow reopening of borders for imports. In the event of a COVID-19 outbreak, the DPRK will likely reimpose strict border closures, internal movement restrictions, and quarantine measures.?
Tightened border controls would reduce overall imports, including food and aid, and increase the prices of basic goods, compounding already critical food shortages. Healthcare provision would diminish further if reduced imports result in a lack of essential supplies, including basic medicines. A COVID-19 outbreak and food shortages, in a context of inadequate healthcare, will likely result in more deaths stemming from the lack of food and nutrition and other illnesses. The number of people with constrained access to food, depleted coping mechanisms, and eventually the risk of starvation would significantly increase. In October 2021, the UN warned of the risk of starvation, particularly for vulnerable children and the elderly.? One in five children under the age of five is malnourished, and nearly half of all children in rural areas are already exposed to a significant risk of malnutrition and illness.? Pregnant and lactating women and people with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to food shortages.? Over 200,000 inmates and political prisoners, many of whom rely on family visits for access to food and medical care, are also vulnerable to food shortages.?
Food: 10.1 million people (39% of the total population) are food insecure and 140,000 children under five suffer from acute malnutrition because of 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: 8.7 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: 8.4 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.?