During a mass rally in North Korean capital city of Pyongyang Thursday, Army Ge. Kang Pyo Yong denounced the U.S., claiming the country is prepared to launch long-range nuclear missiles at America. (Photo : Reuters)
North Korea's options are quickly running out. With the notoriously insular nation fracturing diplomatic relations with too many world powers to count and facing an impending national food shortage crisis, Pyongyang is calling on Mongolia for famine relief.
While visiting the Mongolian president last week, North Korea's ambassador pleaded with the country to provide food aid to its ailing people.
"North Korea may face [a] severe food shortage," said Ambassador Hong Gyu to President Elbegdorj, according to North Korea's national news service. Ambassador Hong then requested that Mongolia "consider the possibility of delivering food aid to North Korea," The Wall Street Journal reported.
While news out of North Korea is often sporadic and dubious at best, several reliable reports over the last decade have highlighted the escalating concern of wide food shortages throughout much of the country ever since a punishing famine struck in the 1990s. With April through September traditionally the harshest part of the year for North Korea - as the corn harvest doesn't begin until the fall - Pyongyang is clearly getting increasingly desperate, scholars say.
One expert on the region, Kwon Tae-jin, an academic who studies North Korean agriculture in Seoul, told the Journal that North Korea's harvest last year was merely "moderate," and insufficient to the country's needs.
"We've learned that while rations are being delivered, it varies region by region," said Dr. Kwon. "But it isn't sufficient to go around for everyone."
Indications of famine in North Korea extend beyond just outsider commentary. Daily NK, a website written by North Korean defectors, published a report last week noting that the North never distributed food to the country's most northern province during the April 15 anniversary celebration of the nation's founder, Kim Il Sung, the most significant holiday of the year.
In recent months, North Korea has released a seemingly endless flood of nearly daily threats aimed at South Korea, Japan, and the U.S. and its military bases in the region. Many analysts believe North Korea's constant hostility is a result of crippling economic sanctions brought against the country by the United Nations due to Pyongyang's refusal to give up its nuclear ambitions.
The most recently approved U.N sanctions "broaden and tighten" the many current financial, economic and trade sanctions that have been in effect against Pyongyang since 2006, and outright ban the sale of luxuries such as yachts and sports cars in the country, highly cherished toys of North Korea's "ruling elite", according to NBC News. Some of the measures also stymie North Korea's ability to move its money around the world, and finance and gather material for its weapons programs.
This is far from the first time news of widespread food shortages has emerged from North Korea.
Information from Pyongyang can be notoriously unreliable at times, but numerous reports from reputable sources earlier this year said that food shortages in North Korea had gotten so bad that some men were murdering their own children just to survive.
"A father in North Korea is reported to have been executed by firing squad after murdering his two children to eat them during a 'hidden famine' that may have killed more than 10,000 people last year," wrote the Sunday Times of one known incident of cannibalism in the country.
The newspaper suggested that hunger in the country could be extensive as a "litany of horrors [have been] documented by undercover reporters," with one man even reportedly digging up his grandchild's corpse for food, and another who boiled his own child and ate the flesh.
The "dozens of interviews" the news agency conducted and numerous clandestine reports led Asia Press to believe that "considerable numbers of people" - quite possibly much more than the reported 10,000 - have perished in the North and South Hwanghae provinces, south of Pyongyang, the nation's capital.