Undernourished population: 35 percent
Rice price: up 186 percent since April 2007
Overall food prices: up 70 percent
In 2007, catastrophic flooding wiped out anywhere from 10 to 25 percent of North Korea’s staple corn and rice crops. Earlier this month, the regime announced it was suspending the food ration system in its capital for six months, a sign that leader Kim Jong Il’s administration is bracing itself for another crisis. The North regularly produces only about 80 percent of what it consumes, a figure likely to shrink to about 60 percent this year. But that hasn’t stopped the regime from alienating the very donors—international aid organizations, the West, and South Korea—that have aided it in years past. Kim has annoyed his counterparts in the West and South Korea with harsh rhetoric and continual delays in nuclear negotiations. Responding to the tough stance of new South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, Kim’s party newspaper Rodong Sinmun vowed that North Korea “will be able to live as it wishes without any help from the South.” Maybe that’s true for Kim and his associates, but for the 6.5 million North Koreans who live with chronic food insecurity, it spells trouble.
Prediction: The current food crisis could be the worst the country has ever seen, according to an unnamed North Korean official quoted in USA Today. That’s saying a lot, considering that famine during the 1990s killed an estimated 2 million people.
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