North Korea’s state news agencies are warning that the country is suffering from a severe drought that threatens crop production, raising fears of a repeat of the 1990s famine whose victims are estimated to have been in the millions. The BBC reports:
KCNA said rice planting had finished in more than 441,560 hectares of paddy fields “but at least 136,200 hectares of them are parching up”.
It said paddy fields in South Hwanghae and North Hwanghae provinces were particularly badly hit, with up to 80% of rice seedlings drying up in some areas.
It said South Phyongan and South Hamgyong were also “badly affected”.
“Water levels of reservoirs stand at their lowest, while rivers and streams [are] getting dry,” the news agency said.
The North Korean state will likely do what it normally does: pass blame while glorifying itself and continuing to subjugate its people. But the bad luck of natural phenomena like droughts merely throws the failures and incompetence of state policy into relief. As the great science-fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein once wrote:
Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded — here and there, now and then — are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty.
This is known as ‘bad luck.’
North Korea’s ills aren’t bad luck. When societies don’t govern themselves well, the conditions aren’t right for the people who could think through an issue like how to manage mass industrial farming. The Kim regime is so repressive that it makes the emergence of effective institutions and or individual problem solvers impossible. The North Korean would-be geniuses are mostly in gulags or starving or marching in a military parade.
Another hungry year for hard-pressed and often undernourished North Korean people will be a true disaster. Yet we predict that the suffering among ordinary people won’t slow down North Korea’s nuke program or force any cutbacks in Kim Jong-un’s lifestyle.