North Korea Cutting Food Rations by Almost Half, Says Weather And Sanctions Have Contributed to Food Shortage

Kim Jong Un
An undated picture released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency on October 30, 2018, shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (center) inspecting the Samjiyon Potato Farina Production Factory in Samjiyon County. KCNA VIA KNS/AFP/Getty Images

North Korea says it is facing a food shortage for 2019 that will require rations be reduced by almost half for its citizens.

Reuters reported that the country revealed the information to the United Nations in a two-page memo, although the document is not dated.

The information comes a week before North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meets with U.S. President Donald Trump in Hanoi, Vietnam. The summit will be the second between the two nations.

According to Reuters, the memo stated that the country produced 503,000 tons less of food in 2018 as compared to 2017. The country estimated that its food shortage would equal 1.4 million tons in 2019.

NBC Newsreported that Kim Song, North Korea's ambassador to the United Nations, wrote the memo, issued by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). Song said the combination of high temperatures, drought and typhoons, as well as sanctions against the country, was to blame for the shortage, and urged the United Nations to provide assistance.

North Korea plans to import 200,000 pounds of food and grow roughly 400,000 pounds of crops, but a gap still remains in supplying food for the country. Because of the gap, North Korea said in the memo that it planned to reduce food rations by 10.5 ounces for a "family of blue or white collar workers," going from 1.2 pounds (550 grams) of food per day to 0.66 pounds (300 grams) per day. The ration reductions were scheduled to begin in January, according to Reuters.

According to a March 2018 report from the United Nations, 10.3 million people—nearly half the population of the country—were in need, and 41 percent were undernourished.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told Reuters that UN officials and other aid groups were working with North Korean officials "in order to take early action to address their humanitarian needs" for the country's "most vulnerable people."

The memo statedthat sanctions issued against North Korea contributed to the shortage by "restricting the delivery of farming materials in need."

"All in all, it vindicates that humanitarian assistance from the UN agencies is terribly politicized and how barbaric and inhuman sanctions are," read the memo, according to NBC News.

Data to verify the claims made in the memo is hard to come by, though the United Nations did confirm that the numbers in the memo matched what the country reported at the end of January.

However, several experts said that the memo could be a negotiating ploy for Kim ahead of his summit with Trump.

"Just look at the way the letter is worded. They want to make it sound like sanctions equals starvation so the U.S. should really be benevolent and give them up," Benjamin Silberstein, co-editor of North Korean Economy Watch and an associate scholar at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, told Reuters.

Sue Mi Terry, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former CIA analyst that tracked North Korea, echoed Silberstein.

"What they want is sanctions relief. That's the main thing that they're looking for. They are laying the groundwork for this meeting with Trump," she told NBC News.