Home Humanitarian Aid in North Korea: Needs, Sanctions and Future Challenges

North Korea is in the midst of a protracted, long-term situation of humanitarian need rooted in political and economic choices by the North Korean regime. It is estimated 10.9 million North Koreans need some form of humanitarian assistance. The long-term and systemic nature of humanitarian need means the DPRK is vulnerable to likely future emergency, at an intergenerational level.

Amongst the backdrop of nuclear tests and political fluctuations, humanitarians are facing greater challenges in responding to known needs due to sanctions. This research seeks to understand how the unilateral — especially US ­— and United Nations Security Council sanctions have affected the delivery of aid and impacted humanitarian work through interviews with practitioners and others with intimate knowledge of the humanitarian landscape in the DPRK, triangulated with public statements by humanitarians.

As long as sanctions are in place, the international community must consider the realities of the restrictions and their impact on humanitarian aid delivery to the North Korean people.

It is clear for the foreseeable future humanitarians will be working in a constrained, sanctioned environment in the DPRK, which will continue to impact on aid delivery. Identifying and understanding the key drivers likely to exacerbate needs in this context will help aid actors to prepare for future eventualities and mitigate against potential large-scale, intergenerational crisis.

The UN’s 1718 Sanctions Committee has been passing exemptions related to COVID-19 and humanitarian aid to North Korea with lightning speed since COVID-19 pandemic — some within a matter of days. This is a major improvement from the months that organisations have had to wait in previous years, but also exposes that delays are not inevitable.

The North Korean people deserve what all people deserve — to live healthy, fulfilled lives where their rights are respected. The North Korean regime creates major obstacles for its own people to realise this. The international community should not further contribute to these obstacles.


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