Famine in North Korea: Markets, Aid, and Reform

by Marcus Noland and Stephan Haggard
March 2007
Book Description

In the mid-1990s, as many as one million North Koreans died in one of the worst famines of the twentieth century. The socialist food distribution system collapsed primarily because of a misguided push for self-reliance, but was compounded by the regime's failure to formulate a quick response-including the blocking of desperately needed humanitarian relief.

As households, enterprises, local party organs, and military units tried to cope with the economic collapse, a grassroots process of marketization took root. However, rather than embracing these changes, the North Korean regime opted for tentative economic reforms with ambiguous benefits and a self-destructive foreign policy. As a result, a chronic food shortage continues to plague North Korea today.

In their carefully researched book, Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland present the most comprehensive and penetrating account of the famine to date, examining not only the origins and aftermath of the crisis but also the regime's response to outside aid and the effect of its current policies on the country's economic future. Their study begins by considering the root causes of the famine, weighing the effects of the decline in the availability of food against its poor distribution. Then it takes a close look at the aid effort, addressing the difficulty of monitoring assistance within the country, and concludes with an analysis of current economic reforms and strategies of engagement.

North Korea's famine exemplified the depredations that can arise from tyrannical rule and the dilemmas such regimes pose for the humanitarian community, as well as the obstacles inherent in achieving economic and political reform. To reveal the state's culpability in this tragic event is a vital project of historical recovery, one that is especially critical in light of our current engagement with the "North Korean question."

>> Review [pdf] published in Asia Policy, no. 5, January 2008

Book Data

March 2007
ISBN cloth 978-0-231-14000-3
368 pp.

Interview with Marcus Noland

Commentaries on This Book

"Famine in North Korea is the authoritative account of the famine . . . It is an extraordinary book, essential reading for anyone interested in the issues of famine, economic transition, and the future of the Korean peninsula."

Joseph E. Stiglitz, winner of the Nobel Prize in economics, and author of Making Globalization Work

"This book is critical for any understanding of the humanitarian and human rights crisis on the Korean peninsula."

Vaclav Havel, former President of the Czech Republic

"A rigorous study."

Anna Fifield, Financial Times

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