The North Korean government has still not confirmed a coronavirus outbreak—in fact, they continue to insist there has not been a single confirmed case. Yet, no foreigners are allowed into the country and all North Korean citizens are unable to move around freely. It’s almost certain that there are cases in the closed-off country.
North Korea watchers are afraid that the current situation will lead to another “Arduous March,” the name the North Korean people gave the great famine of the 1990s in which 2-3 million people died.
“As the border restrictions continue in North Korea, the shortages of food have quadrupled prices [at the market],” says North Korean escapee Timothy*, who is now working for Open Doors. “According to a recent DailyNK report, many individual shops are now closed, or are unable to sell goods because they simply have nothing to sell. For example, it’s hard to find sugar in the shops or markets, and a can with 100g of Chinese pepper has gone up from 8,000 Korean won [around $9] to 40,000 won [about $44].”
Open Doors sources also report that market prices are unstable and often skyrocketing. Even with the markets being allowed open, most people don’t have the money to buy anything. Our sources also report that many citizens have already passed away due to malnutrition and starvation.
“North Koreans are dependent on things they can find in the woods or the mountains,” says an Open Doors spokesperson. “And many goods are smuggled from China and through North Korea before they end up on the black market. The official economy was already in a coma, but now the shadow economy has also taken a huge hit, putting the lives of millions of children and adults at risk.”
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization reported on May 18th that North Korea has a shortage of 860,000 tons of grain. Yet, the country keeps its doors closed. Only some illegal and/or state-initiated smuggling is happening at the border with China.
At the moment, North Koreans are unable to receive help via Open Doors’ networks in China because they can’t get over the border to China. “We always say that prayer is just as important as giving,” says the Open Doors spokesperson who is closely involved with the Open Doors North Korea team. “Our teams are getting ready to distribute food secretly, but North Koreans need to be able to come to us. So, we really plead for the prayers and financial support of our donors. We need both and can’t have one without the other.” Once border crossings are a bit easier, our teams are ready with aid to support North Korean Christians.
Every relief package in the hands of a North Korean Christian will save a family—Open Doors has seen this reality in countless crises in North Korea. “One time I stood at the Chinese-North Korea border,” he continues. “I could see a village and I knew there were secret believers over there. I felt so discouraged that all we could do was give them some food and sometimes some Christian materials. But then I remembered a message we received from one of them. This person wrote, ‘Thanks to your help, I know that God hasn’t forgotten us.’ This is how God reminded me that we don’t bring bags with rice. We bring hope.”
Join us in prayer for believers in North Korea during this crisis. Please join us in prayer for:
- The impact of COVID-19 on the food situation. Pray goods would be available and that famine wouldn’t return
- Pray that North Koreans would be able to cross the border to China to reach our teams that are ready and waiting with aid
- Protection of secret believers
- The North Korean government would accept international aid
- The North Korean regime to open their hearts to see the truth of Jesus and His love—and that His love will lead them to care for the millions of people living under starvation and persecution