Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland are the authors of Famine in North Korea.
Here are the first two exchanges from a recent Q & A about the book:
Q: You estimate that up to a million people died in the great famine of the mid-1990s. The numbers are staggering; how could the government have allowed this to transpire?Read the entire interview.
Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland: Famine is commonly thought of as occurring when there is not enough food to go around, and shortages do play a role. But as Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, who contributed a foreword to the book, has observed, distribution matters. The official explanation for the famine is that North Korea experienced devastating floods in the mid-1990s. The famine was, in effect, a natural disaster. However, food supplies had begun dwindling and mortality rates creeping up before the floods. The rigidly authoritarian regime made little effort to offset declining harvests either by purchasing grain in the world market or appealing for humanitarian assistance, and when push came to shove, the residents of the capitol, Pyongyang, received privileged access, while some provinces were cut off from grain supplies from the state-run public distribution system altogether, and were later denied aid when it began to arrive. The government was centrally culpable in this disaster.
Q: A theme of the book is the difficulty the humanitarian community has in dealing with such a hard state. How does the North Korean government get away with this?
SH & MN: The North Korean government holds its population hostage to the humanitarian values of the international community. The World Food Program and other relief groups had to negotiate for entry, even as people were starving, and more than a decade later, they remain tightly constrained in their access and activities.
Effectiveness was also impeded by the shifting political winds in the donor countries, which behaved generously when they felt aid could be useful in supporting diplomatic negotiations, while restricting aid at other times in response to North Korean provocations. Similar problems of coordinating how to engage North Korea persist to this day, with China and South Korea pushing for greater and less conditional support, while Japan and the United States take a harder line.