Famine in North Korea: humanitarian policy in the late 1990s

Working and discussion papers
December 2015
Emma Campbell

Famine in North Korea led to the deaths of over 600,000 people in the late 1990s, with others putting the number of dead as high as 3.5 million.

The crisis led North Korea to issue an unprecedented request to the international community for humanitarian assistance. Aid providers were caught in a dilemma, with a strong desire to provide assistance to those in desperate need, while ensuring that aid did not prop up a regime that was causing the suffering in the first place.

Aid organisations were divided, with some ultimately deciding to withdraw from the country, citing lack of access, inability to evaluate programmes and diversion of aid by North Korean authorities.

This Working Paper reviews the history of aid to North Korea, the dilemmas faced by those responding to the famine, and the impact the aid response had on more recent humanitarian engagement in North Korea.

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