Dictators, Development and Malaria

North and South Korea offer a nice look at the real sources of underdevelopment in Third World countries. That distinction was recently highlighted with word from the World Health Organization that North Korea has been experiencing a malaria epidemic over the past few years.

During the 1970s, malaria was eradicated from both countries. In 1997, however, malaria made a comeback in North Korea. The main reason is that although North Korea has a well–funded army, it does not have a well-funded water and sanitation system.

As a result, WHO estimates that last year there were as many as 300,000 cases of malaria in North Korea. WHO recently released an appeal for aid, noting that although much aid has been given to North Korea to avert famine, it also needs money to combat malaria and other problems.

South Korea, on the other hand, is prosperous to the point that it donated almost $700,000 of equipment to help its neighbor to the north fight malaria.

Both North and South Korea emerged from World War II as dictatorial societies. The North’s political system became ever more rigid and totalitarian, whereas the South’s political system gradually was forced to accept liberal democracy, both from internal and external forces.

The main problem still facing the developing world is too many regimes that have more in common with North Korea than with South Korea. A lack of democracy and political rights is a deadly combination.


WHO battles malaria in North Korea. Caroline Gluck, The BBC, April 1, 2002.

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