The UN predicts North Korea’s daily food rations may drop further, possibly to “famine” levels, after the worst harvest in ten years slashed allowances to 300 grammes per person.

Acute food insecurity (not having enough to last until the next harvest) affects nearly two in five North Koreans. And at least 107,000 inhabitants caught tuberculosis in 2017.

Yet singly and jointly, world nations have sanctioned Pyongyang for decades to pressure it into denuclearising or reprimand its cyber-attacks, human rights abuses, and missile testing.

As more foundations cut medical aid to Pyongyang, observers wonder whether “maximum pressure” policies merely hurt civilians, without wringing substantial government concessions.

Apparently acknowledging the crisis Tuesday, Donald Trump told South Korean president Moon Jae-In providing aid “would be a timely and positive move.”

But faced with provocative behaviour—see Pyongyang firing two short-range missiles Thursday—disincentives seem limited to economic measures.

Ultimately, blame for the humanitarian crisis rests with Pyongyang, which has splurged on nuclear advances and military projects while neglecting citizens’ welfare.

Yet critics also argue that U.S.-led sanctions—including on vital energy imports—have crippled North Korean agriculture and blocked crucial medical aid.

How should international communities balance between punishing rogue states, and accounting for civilian costs?

 

Credit for this article's header image goes to Getty.