JUDY WOODRUFF: But first: Xi Jinping’s visit
to Pyongyang today was the first by a Chinese
leader in 14 years.
Over a two-day summit, the leaders will discuss
denuclearization and other issues, including
providing North Korea much-needed humanitarian
Just yesterday, South Korea announced that
it would send 50,000 tons of rice to the North.
Hunger is a way of life for many North Koreans.
But, as Nick Schifrin back to report, conditions
inside North Korea are worsening, and hunger
NICK SCHIFRIN: In the most isolated country
on the planet, the U.N. says 10 million North
Koreans don’t have enough food.
Dry spells and low rainfall produced the worst
harvest in a decade.
And U.S. and U.N. sanctions mean farmers work
with rudimentary tools.
Instead of tractors, they use oxen.
North Korea is one of the world’s poorest
countries and has long faced food shortages,
but now the World Food Program says they’re
Last month, they studied the shortage and
called for an urgent humanitarian intervention
into North Korea, also known as the DPRK.
NICOLAS BIDAULT, World Food Program: What
is clear is that the succession of a bad drought,
heat wave and floods this year is badly impacted
the crop production.
NICK SCHIFRIN: As seen in WFP video, Ms. Ree is
a cooperative farmer.
But because of the bad harvest and lack of
tools, she’s not making enough money.
And so the chicks she raises to eat will have
to be sold, so she can get by.
Instead, she will eat rice and cabbage.
Already, one in five North Korean children
are too short for their age because of poor
And the communist government is providing
In 2018, the daily food ration was 380 grams,
the equivalent of eight small potatoes.
But, in January, the ration dropped by a quarter.
MARIO ZAPPACOSTA, Food and Agriculture Organization
of the United Nations: Around 40 percent of
the population are considered to be food-insecure
and in need of urgent food assistance.
NICK SCHIFRIN: But U.S. officials say the
problem isn’t as bad as the U.N. depicts,
because many North Koreans get their food
from private markets, seen here in rare footage
filmed by an anti-North Korean activist group.
But humanitarian workers say the problem runs
deeper and is urgent.
KEE PARK, Korean American Medical Association:
We’re talking about up to 20,000 kids, kids
that could potentially not survive.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Dr. Kee Park is a Korean neurosurgeon
who’s been visiting the country for the past
12 years, training doctors.
When he first traveled, the hospital had X-ray
Today, because of a lack of supplies, he operates
as if in the 19th century.
KEE PARK: We don’t have the X-ray machine
to tell us exactly where we are.
And we had to rely on other markers, other
anatomical points to guess where we are.
NICK SCHIFRIN: He blames U.N. and U.S. sanctions.
They began in 2006, and included obviously
military items like tanks, combat aircraft
and technical training.
By 2017, the U.N. imposed its strictest sanctions
yet, on all industrial machinery, transportation
vehicles, iron, steel and other metals.
That has had side effects.
KEE PARK: Basic medical equipment, almost
every one of them have broken down and we’re
now unable to repair because of parts availability.
Medical equipment shouldn’t be part of sanctions.
NICK SCHIFRIN: And was that the case 12 years
ago, when you started?
KEE PARK: No.
NICK SCHIFRIN: The sanctions are designed
to stop North Korea from redirecting machinery,
metals, and aid to its missile and nuclear
The restrictions are necessary, argues former
State Department official Balbina Hwang.
BALBINA HWANG, Georgetown University: When
the international community rallies and then
pours aid into the country, then the government,
unfortunately, receives the aid, and instead
of distributing it to the people in need,
it basically extracts it, and, we think, diverts
it, and proceeds to use it for activities
that, unfortunately, are very, very threatening
to the international community.
NICK SCHIFRIN: U.S. officials also accuse
Kim Jong-un of diverting resources to himself,
the elites who go shopping in high-end malls,
and the military officials he’s surrounded
The U.S. says, if he wanted to, he could alleviate
his people’s hunger and poverty that sanctions
BALBINA HWANG: There is certainly no doubt
that the North Korean population is suffering
greatly under international sanctions.
And this is primarily due — well, completely
due to the actions of a very, very terrible
NICK SCHIFRIN: But humanitarian officials
say, despite the regime’s evils, the U.S.
should still help the North Korean people.
CHRIS RICE, Mennonite Central Committee: Humanitarian
engagement shouldn’t be connected to politics.
The vulnerable shouldn’t be hurt by these
NICK SCHIFRIN: Chris Rice is the Northeast
Asia representative for the Mennonite Central
Committee, a faith-based organization that
sends food aid, hygiene kits, and clean water
to North Korean hospitals.
He began leading humanitarian trips four years
ago, and was on the ground just last month.
CHRIS RICE: We visited three pediatric hospitals.
Kids were malnourished, and had also diarrhea,
And that indicates lack of clean water.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Joy Yoon, on the right, has
worked in North Korea for more than a decade
and created this rehabilitation center for
children with cerebral palsy and autism, children
like Oo-Ein, a quadriplegic with cerebral
After 11 months of therapy and treatment,
she walked for the first time.
Yoon says their work is more difficult because
U.N. and U.S. sanctions and President Trump’s
maximum pressure campaign.
JOY YOON, Co-Founder, IGNIS Community: This
affects all nonprofit organizations doing
medical work in North Korea.
Any kind of needle, any kind of rehabilitation
equipment, any kind of medical equipment that
has even a hint of metal in it is now sanctioned
from entering North Korea.
All these things complicate what we’re doing
in North Korea and it really slows the progress.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Their progress was temporarily
halted after American student Otto Warmbier
was arrested and tried by the North Korean
He came home in 2017 in a vegetative state,
and died shortly later.
Afterward, the U.S. required all U.S. citizens
to apply for a special validation passport
to enter North Korea.
By last year, the administration stopped allowing
humanitarian workers into the country entirely.
This year, the State Department eased those
travel restrictions, but maintained sanctions.
BALBINA HWANG: We are waiting to see if we
can achieve the goals of denuclearization.
Unfortunately, it seems that North Korea is
probably not going to denuclearize.
And so, for the time being, I think we have
to continue where we are with the restrictions.
NICK SCHIFRIN: Humanitarian workers say that
policy punishes the innocent.
KEE PARK: The U.S. possesses overwhelming
economic, political, and diplomatic power.
And right now, they’re exercising these powers
to block and prevent humanitarian assistance.
U.S. policies are actually contributing to
deaths of innocent pregnant mothers and children.
Are we willing to accept these deaths in the
name of U.S. national security?
NICK SCHIFRIN: U.S. officials say they are
trying to balance national security with allowing
some humanitarian aid.
But whoever’s at fault, it is ordinary North
Koreans who need help the most.
For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Nick Schifrin.