Food shortage might have ended mass games

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Food shortage might have ended mass games

North Korea may have suspended its annual mass games starting from next week as a result of the massive food insecurity the country currently faces, according to a Japanese media outlet.

After watching the synchronized gymnastic and artistic performances by thousands of performers, titled “The Land of the People,” North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Monday issued a strong criticism of the “wrong spirit of creation” and “irresponsible work attitude” of its creators, according to a report by the state-run Korea Central News Agency.

Kim’s scathing review of the performance, which officially kicked off on Monday at May Day Stadium in Pyongyang, was followed by notifications uploaded to the websites of tour agencies providing travel packages to North Korea, like China-based Young Pioneer Tours or Koryo Tours, saying that the mass games could be suspended from Monday for several days or weeks.

The event, according to early state media reports, was initially planned to run from June to October. No official announcement has been made about its suspension.

Yet a report by Japanese outlet Asia Press on Thursday suggests that Kim’s criticism may have served as a justification to shut down performances, which were threatened by a bigger problem - severe food shortages.

According to Asia Press, which consulted sources in the North, the organizers of the event in Pyongyang have been facing severe difficulty feeding the student performers at the games, particularly those from provinces outside of the capital. Asia Press claimed that the performers brought in from the provinces, which make up about 60 percent of them, received only 160 grams (5.6 ounces) of rice per meal, along with small amounts of salted cabbage and radishes. Parents of those children were forced to send extra money to their children, and performers from families without such means were going hungry altogether.

The report said that malnutrition and the spread of disease among the students was hindering rehearsals for the games, eventually forcing organizers to suspend the event altogether after a lackluster initial performance.

North Korea’s mass games are well known for mobilizing almost 100,000 people for a massive synchronized display of propaganda performances lauding the regime’s leaders and the country’s political system. Rehearsals begin almost six months before the actual event, which international media has cited as an example of the country’s general disregard for individual welfare.

While they initially began as pageants to celebrate special occasions in the 1960s, mass games were staged by the North almost every year from 2002 to 2013, save for 2003, 2004 and 2006, when the country suffered from floods. Last year, the North held the games again to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the country’s founding. South Korean President Moon Jae-in also watched the games in person at May Day Stadium when he visited Pyongyang for his third summit with Kim in September.

The premature suspension of one of the regime’s most iconic propaganda events may testify to just how serious food insecurity is in the North. After on-site visits to the country in April and last November, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN concluded that around 10.1 million people - 40 percent of the population - are suffering from severe food shortages as a result of a bad harvest last year. On Wednesday, South Korea donated $8 million to the WFP and Unicef to supply emergency nutritional and medical assistance to the most vulnerable populations in the North.

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