Desperate Hunger Plagues N. Korea, Forces Change

Rampant malnutrition fuels capitalist markets
By Matt Cantor,  Newser User
Posted Mar 6, 2009 8:10 AM CST
In this undated photo released by Korean Central News Agency via Korea News Service, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, center, puts a cigarette in his mouth at a factory in North Korea.   (AP Photo/Korean Central News Agency)
camera-icon View 2 more images

(Newser) – North Korea has, in its words, an “eating problem”: unable to feed its residents, it has become the world’s first nuclear-armed “beggar,” the Washington Post reports. Malnutrition has led to a spate of mental and physical disabilities—a quarter of potential troops will be disqualified because of retardation, and boys who escape southward are an average of 5 inches shorter than their South Korean counterparts.

The food shortage has fueled “a drastic state of change” in North Korea, says a journalist in the region. The shortage has forced Pyongyang to allow visits from foreign aid workers, who have painted a grim picture of children’s health. Meanwhile, a capitalist underground has emerged in the communist country, with some 80% of household income and half the people’s caloric intake coming from oft-corrupt private markets.