SEOUL, April 8 (UPI) -- Citing "many obstacles and difficulties ahead of us," North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called on members of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea to prepare for another "Arduous March" in order to overcome the deep economic woes the isolated country is facing, state-run media reported on Friday.
"Arduous March" was a term used by North Korean leaders during the massive famine of the mid-1990s that killed as many as 3.5 million people after the collapse of the Soviet Union, which was Pyongyang's main economic benefactor.
Kim's remarks came during his closing address to a conference of Workers' Party cell secretaries, who carry out policy on the grassroots and local levels.
"I made up my mind to ask the WPK organizations at all levels, including its central committee, and the cell secretaries of the entire party, to wage another more difficult 'Arduous March' in order to relieve our people of the difficulty, even a little," Kim said, according to the government's Korean Central News Agency.
At a conference speech earlier in the week, Kim said North Korea was facing its "worst-ever situation."
The country has faced major economic hardships from the COVID-19 pandemic after closing its borders in January of last year, cutting off trade by some 80% with main partner China.
North Korea has also continued to struggle under years of international sanctions over its ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs, while a series of late-summer typhoons caused flooding and major damage to buildings, roads and crops.
Persistent food shortages were exacerbated by the pandemic, according to a January report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which estimated that 63.1% of North Koreans, or 16.2 million people, faced food insecurity in 2020.
Kim called on the cell secretaries "to make greater efforts and struggle harder once more for our revolution and for our party," and told them to "take the lead in tackling difficult and labor-consuming work," KCNA reported.
The North Korean leader said the secretaries should help implement the five-year plan for economic development that was laid out during a party congress held in January, but warned of the challenges ahead.
"There are many obstacles and difficulties ahead of us, and so our struggle for carrying out the decisions of the Eighth Party Congress would not be all plain sailing," Kim said.
Kim made a rare admission of failure at the party congress in January, saying that the country "fell incredibly short of the goals set out in almost all sectors."