Food shortages have worsened even in North Korea’s southwestern rice belt and some residents have starved to death there, a Seoul-based online newspaper said yesterday.
“Because of worsening food shortages this year there were reports of people starving to death even in South and North Hwanghae provinces,” a Daily NK reporter said, referring to the country’s agricultural heartland.
Six people — children or the elderly — died in just one village in Shingye County after the authorities released an emergency supply of only 1 or 2 kilograms of corn to each household, the paper said.
It quoted another source as saying that about 10 people had died of starvation on each collective farm in and around the coastal city of Haeju last month, following shortages in late winter.
Good Friends, a Seoul-based aid group, also said on its Web site that starvation continued to claim victims throughout South Hwanghae. At Hwanghae Steelworks some workers had died because food rations stopped, it said.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which is responsible for cross-border affairs, said it had no information.
Daily NK said North and South Hwanghae saw rice production fall last year due to flooding, and most of the autumn harvest was diverted to military stores or for citizens of Pyongyang.
In South Hwanghae shortages were aggravated by restrictions on market trading and travel during the 100-day mourning period for former leader Kim Jong-il who died on Dec. 17, it said.
Near the border with South Korea soldiers were mobilized for farming because many farm workers left to seek help from relatives in other areas, it said.
North Korea’s official food distribution system, part of its state-directed economy, largely collapsed during the famine years of the mid to-late 1990s.
Severe food shortages have persisted. However, donations to UN programs have dwindled due to international irritation at North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs.
The US suspended a plan to deliver 240,000 tonnes of food after North Korea’s latest rocket launch on April 13.