Food insecurity riles North Korea’s poorest provinces

An increasing number of North Koreans are suffering from the effects of food insecurity and malnutrition, according to inside sources who spoke with Daily NK. A rumor is circulating in Ryanggang and North Hamgyong provinces that the body of someone who starved to death has been seen near the train station in Hyesan City.
“More than a handful of people have come forward and said that they saw the body of someone who starved to death near the Hyesan train station. The food situation was relatively good for the past few years, so it’s such a shame that we’ve returned to dire circumstances so suddenly,” a source in Ryanggang Province told Daily NK. 
A source from North Hamgyong Province similarly reported that “a rumor is swirling around the market that a starved body was discovered. There are so many people talking about it that it’s being viewed as a fact.”
The source added that the credibility of the rumors is high, saying, “There was a severe drought at the beginning of the year in North and South Hamgyong provinces and Ryanggang Province. The corn and rice harvest did not meet its targets, amounting to approximately half the volume produced last year.” 
“Last year, North and South Hamgyong and Ryanggang provinces endured a flood of epic proportions and this year there was a drought, so the agricultural situation in both regions is poor. Additionally, because of the sanctions, it has been harder to procure different kinds of fertilizer necessary for farming, so this has exacerbated the damage.” he continued.
The situation is driving people to engage in desperate measures. At the end of September, a small group of North Korean border guards posted in North Hamgyong Province slipped across the Chinese border in the dead of night to steal grain. Ordinary residents are starting to imitate the behavior, crossing the border themselves to plunder food. 
“Until the end of last year it was not so bad, but this year is different. People have nothing to eat, so they’re willing to go across the river to steal food from the Chinese. If this is how bad things are now, it’s likely that more people will starve as time goes on,” the North Hamgyong Province source said.
To make matters worse, the cost of corn, a staple food for most North Koreans, is up 900 KPW compared to last year, and is now selling at 2,800 KPW per kilogram. The cost of rice is also unstable, further complicating food security for the residents. 
The North Korean authorities have not offered any solution to the deteriorating food situation, instead focusing on consolidating the regime’s financial resources. The public distribution system collapsed in the 1990s, leading to widespread famine. Today, the regime instead chooses to invest its funds into missile and nuclear development, impacting the entire population. 
“North Korean residents who work on collective farms are unable to properly participate in the market economy, so when the harvest doesn’t turn out well, their survival is put on the line. There are no policies being enacted to address the problem, like releasing the grain reserves from the military stores,” the Ryanggang Province-based source said.  
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