By Devin Watkins
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has urged citizens to wage an “arduous march” to overcome economic woes brought on by the Covid-19 crisis.
This is the first time that he has drawn comparisons to a famine in the 1990s which saw hundreds of thousands of North Koreans starve to death.
Famine by another name
The state-run Korean Central News Agency reported Friday that Kim told lower-level Communist party members that there are “many obstacles and difficulties”.
He said he is calling on all North Koreans to “wage another more difficult ‘arduous march’ in order to relieve our people of the difficulty, even a little.”
The term “arduous march” is a euphemistic term used in the country to describe the 1990s famine, which occurred after the fall of the Soviet Union and the collapse of Soviet aid.
The exact death toll from that event is unclear, but ranges up to 3 million people dead.
Pain of Covid-closures
Outside observers say they have not detected any evidence of mass starvation or a humanitarian disaster.
Yet, Kim’s remarks show how seriously he considers the situation.
North Korea has sealed its borders, even with neighboring China, its main trading partner, due to fears about the contagion of Covid-19.
Analysts say the country’s trade with China fell by around 80 percent in 2020, due to the border closures. They say North Korea made the move because its healthcare system would buckle under the weight of a coronavirus outbreak.
Cost of arms
The dire economic situation is also the result of international sanctions on North Korea linked to its nuclear program and testing of ballistic missiles.
Reports have emerged that the price of corn has varied wildly over the past year. The cost of corn, the staple diet of most North Koreans, has reportedly soared over a month’s wages.
The UN recently warned of a “serious food crisis” which has already led to severe malnourishment.