How US Sanctions Impact North Koreans


PYONGYANG — The Trump Administration recently increased North Korean sanctions, punishing a company and 11 individuals for their ties to the country’s weapons program. The 12 affected can no longer have business dealings with the U.S. The goal of these sanctions is to cripple North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.

Past U.S. presidents have enacted similar sanctions on businesses and people, as have the United Nations, South Korea, Japan and the European Union. These sanctions include embargos, ending business ties, forbidding travelers from North Korea and reducing the transfer of money into North Korea.

The intent is to punish the government for its hostile attitude and weaponry development. Although, U.S. sanctions impact North Koreans too. The country is already impoverished, with 40 percent of its citizens falling below the poverty line. Furthermore, about 41 percent of the population is undernourished. The country is at risk of another famine, as experience in the 1990s. This famine, which killed more than three million people, forced North Korea to become dependent on foreign aid for food.

The poverty in North Korea creates a sad existence. Life expectancy has fallen five years over the last 40 years. North Koreans are mandated to eat only two meals per day. This likely explains why one-third of children have stunted growth and there is a 33 percent infant mortality rate. Indeed, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power stated that North Korea is more concerned with nourishing its weapons program than nourishing children.

A dire way in which U.S. sanctions impact North Koreans is that humanitarian aid is delayed or stopped entirely. Sanctions are not applied to goods, services and money that go to non-governmental organizations, however, the restrictions in place do disrupt aid organizations’ ability to send these things. Aid is often held up for inspection to be sure it’s not associated with arms proliferation. One example is when the Eugene Bell Foundation tried sending tuberculosis medicine; South Korea initially prevented this shipment before conceding to allow the humanitarian aid to enter North Korea.

Whether for political or personal reasons, the negativity surrounding North Korea has stopped some from sending humanitarian aid altogether. Before January, the U.S. had not sent any since 2011. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization reported that North Korea needed 440,000 tons of food shipped to its people in 2016. Yet by April, it had received less than one-eighth of that amount.

Other nations’ sanctions impact North Koreans as well. U.N. sanctions will likely deteriorate North Korea’s mining industry. One South Korean sanction closed a plant that employed 54,000 North Koreans. All 54,000 lost their jobs as a result. Another South Korean sanction prevents farming fertilizer from entering into North Korea, so many farmers are now forced to use their own feces.

Some critics have reservations about giving North Korea aid, as government officials have kept it for themselves in the past. Although, aid agencies in the country are making efforts to see this doesn’t happen.

Many countries have reserved sending help, but this changed when North Korea endured a severe typhoon in August 2016. The storm killed hundreds and destroyed thousands of homes. Fortunately, the world could not see such devastation without helping. The U.S. finally gave humanitarian aid again. Samaritan’s Purse gave $1 million, while Secretary of State John Kerry authorized UNICEF to give another $1 million in aid.

So while U.S. sanctions impact North Koreans, they work toward deterring the government. North Korea’s hostilities are a grave concern and need to be dealt with. Yet, the citizens of North Korea cannot be forgotten; the humanitarian crisis must be dealt with.

Mary Katherine Crowley

Photo: Flickr


About Author

Mary Crowley

Mary writes for The Borgen Project from Shortsville, NY. She has a degree in Medical Journalism and Mary's other academic interests have gravitated toward pathophysiology, local social issues, and creative fiction. Mary is currently working on a collection of short stories and vignettes for publication. Each piece tells the story of a woman working through pain or injustice that is uniquely suffered by women.

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