North Korea

Humanitarian context

North Korea was one of the first countries to close its borders when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in China. The country’s economy, based mainly on its agriculture and trade with China, has been heavily impacted by the health crisis. So much so that the authorities are preparing for a new episode of famine that is painfully reminiscent of the 1990’s “Arduous March”, which killed more than one million people.

The country regularly faces phases of food shortages, caused both by the strong climatic variations alternating between droughts and floods, but also because of its political situation. Indeed, the international community imposes economic sanctions on North Korea, mainly because of its nuclear activity and ballistic missile launches.

18 million people, or nearly 70 per cent of the population, currently depend on food distributions from the regime, which obtains food from the country’s collective farms. The latter are subject to a quota policy whose objective is to rationalize all agricultural production.

The rations distributed are not sufficiently varied to allow for a complete and balanced nutritional intake
. The latest United Nations report shows that nearly 40% of children are malnourished.

Key figures

Year of mission
National staff
Expatriate staff
5 852

Description of the mission

Present in the country since 2002, Première Urgence Internationale is one of the few non-governmental organizations (NGOs) authorized to carry out humanitarian and development programs in North Korea. Historically present in the health sector, the association has focused since 2007 on food security, nutrition, water, hygiene and sanitation and support to education.

Until 2020, the NGO focused on local production and food processing at the scale of collective farms and households, to develop their food and economic resilience in the face of climatic shocks and during lean periods.

Premiere Urgence Internationale in action

In 2019, Première Urgence Internationale‘s activities focused on the province of South Hwanghae, with the objective of improving the food and nutritional situation of communities. Two complementary projects focused on the development of the goat industry, with interventions at four collective farms, as well as at the Haeju Agricultural University. The objective was to improve the food rations distributed in the schools, in order to diversify the children’s diet and improve their nutritional status. Première Urgence Internationale worked to strengthen the production and processing capacities of goat’s milk in order to be able to produce quality dairy products rich in proteins.
At the same time, greenhouses and market gardening equipment were distributed to increase food diversity and vegetable production. A similar project to improve the soybean chain on four other farms in the same region was also launched in 2020.

The reopening of borders following the COVID-19 pandemic is still not being considered, making any future intervention by Première Urgence Internationale in North Korea uncertain in the short term.

Our partners

Ministère des Affaires étrangères
Centre de Crise et de Soutien

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