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ACAPS Thematic Report: Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Humanitarian needs in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic (15 June 2022)

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The humanitarian crisis in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is protracted and multifaceted. The harsh climate, natural disasters, and governmental policies that have shown limited sustainability contribute to chronic food insecurity (Al Jazeera 01/07/2021;
Reuters 08/10/2021). Media outlets regularly report on the DPRK’s nuclear programme and the tensions in the Korean Peninsula, but the complex crisis within the country is underreported compared to other crises around the globe (CARE 23/01/2018). Authorities’ restrictions on the flow of direct information limit public awareness and understanding of the challenges North Koreans face.
In 2020, over ten million people (40% of the total population) needed humanitarian assistance.
The zero COVID-19 policy of the DPRK Government disrupted humanitarian needs assessments during the pandemic, but estimates indicate that 60% of the population was food insecure by the end of 2021. Throughout the year, border closures and prolonged quarantine measures on imports resulted in critical shortages of basic goods, including medicine, and trade with China decreased by up to 90% in 2021 compared to 2019 (Daily NK 25/05/2020 and 15/11/2021;
Nikkei Asia 18/01/2022; The Guardian 01/04/2021). Aside from the already challenging operational environment, the COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy of DPRK authorities adds another complicated layer for the humanitarian community to work around in the foreseeable future.