Many experts worry that the latest Pyongyang policies are the same as those that helped to exacerbate the famine. While food stocks may be stable at present, there is no certainty about what the next harvest will bring. And if there is a shortage, the ban on private sales of grain, the reliance on the rationing system, and the absence of WFP monitoring would again put the most vulnerable segment of the population at risk of severe hunger or even famine.
Once food shortages appear, North Korea is obliged by international law to distribute its available resources, including food aid offered by international donors. But in the meantime, the only way for an individual to avoid hunger, disease and starvation is to grow food or to buy it illegally from a private trader. If North Korea is concerned about its citizens' survival, the last thing it should do is to ban a hungry person from buying food.
The international community - particularly China and South Korea, the two main providers of food aid and the only countries with sufficient influence - must press North Korea to reverse its present course.
[Exceprt of an article by Kay Seok, International Herald Tribune]
Kay Seok is the consultant on North Korea at Human Rights Watch.