North Korea

Food and deprivation in North Korea

Why does North Korea’s odious dictatorship remain so entrenched despite causing such hunger and misery to its people, including the devastation of a far-ranging famine that has killed one-fifth of the population.

IF NOBODY else, at least Kim Jong Il, North Korea’s leader, appears to have found something to fill his belly with during the annual Chuseok harvest festival in North Korea this week [Sept 12-17, 2011]. “His face beaming with a smile,” as his propaganda machine put it, he dropped into a shop in Pyongyang selling pancakes stuffed with meat.

Outside the capital there are few such treats. Much of the rest of the country is suffering a severe food shortage, say aid agencies. On September 9th the UN’s World Food Programme released video images from a trip to the North Korean countryside showing listless orphans, their growth stunted by malnourishment. A cold start to the growing season and summer flooding has badly damaged rice and maize crops. Potato rations have been cut by a third, to two a person each day.

Kim’s regime, with customary cynicism, has told people to “simplify” their dining habits at Chuseok this year “in the socialist way,” according to DailyNK, a Seoul-based online news agency.

Yet in his parallel universe, Mr Kim boasted of the variety of beef, pork, goose and turkey available to the privileged customers of the pancake shop. How does he get away with it? Loosely, that is the question posed by North Korea-watchers trying to understand how an odious regime has remained stable for so long, defying frequent predictions of its downfall.

North Korea should, by rights, be tottering under the weight of its spectacular economic mismanagement. It is in the midst of a shaky succession process, which is hard for any totalitarian regime, let alone one where the chubby heir-apparent, Kim’s son, Kim Jong Un, is little known or loved.

The country’s food crisis has its roots in atrocious farm productivity, the high international price of grain, and an embargo on much food aid because of North Korean belligerence towards South Korea in recent years. Although the public-distribution system for food has collapsed in much of the country, the regime has tried, albeit imperfectly, to stamp out informal markets, the only succour for many…..

The Economist: Read the full article here