New airport terminal in North Korea boasts fondue and a wine bar

A month after a UN report confirms drought and predicts food shortages, photos are published by North Korean state media of leader Kim Jong-un touring a gleaming new airport terminal in the capital city of Pyongyang.

KCNA/Reuters
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (front) walks with his wife Ri Sol Ju as he gives field guidance at the new terminal of Pyongyang International Airport in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on June 25, 2015.

A three-page spread in a North Korean newspaper shows leader Kim Jong-un touring a gleaming new airport terminal at Pyongyang Sunan International Airport.

In photos, the isolated nation's leader is shown inspecting restaurants and gates, standing by an empty baggage carousel, and leaning against a bar with what appears to be a large fondue set. The bright wrappers of Mars candy bars can be seen in photos of the duty free shops, and watches and jewelry gleam in neat rows in another photo of one of the terminal's shops. 

Most of the very small number of commercial flights to North Korea bring tourists and North Koreans on official business between the capital city and Beijing. The majority of visitors to North Korea are from China, North Korea's main ally and neighbor to the north, according to Reuters.

Travel agencies estimate that about 6,000 Westerners visit the country every year, though North Korea does not publish tourism numbers. Visits steeply declined when North Korea closed its borders last year over fears of the Ebola virus.

The airport terminal will open with fanfare on July 1, reports Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of North Korea. The opening will occur about a month after the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) issued a statement that the agency anticipates food supplies being halved due to drought in North Korea's largest agricultural regions.

"We don't have enough information to say if people are starving or not," senior FAO official Liliana Balbi told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "But the situation is serious. They are on the borderline."

North Korean media has called it "the worst drought in 100 years."

Ms. Balbi also said that in addition to the drought, the country has not properly maintained its irrigation canals or farming infrastructure, which further threatens the population's food supply. 

Reuters reported that according to the FAO report released in May, the number of hungry people in North Korea has more than doubled in the last two decades, rising to 10.5 million in 2014 from 4.8 million in 1990.

North Korea watchers warn that reports of drought by the nation itself may be thinly veiled attempts to secure international assistance, regardless of North Korea's actual weather. While the FAO report confirms the drought, Foreign Policy has reported that in 2014 North Korea came close to being fully self-sufficient in terms of food sources as the country begins to implement reforms to its farming policies to more closely resemble Chinese agriculture.  

The new airport terminal joins a growing number of other public projects that have been completed since Kim Jong-un came to power in 2011, which include a ski resort and water park. The leader has publicly stated he wants 1 million tourists to visit North Korea. No time table has been reported, and it far exceeds the roughly 100,000 that experts estimate come to the nation each year. 

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