Q: Despite reports that the North Korean people are starving, on TV I saw black markets in North Korea and it looked like they had lots of goods there. Is the starvation an exaggeration by mass media, to gain audience ratings?
A: It is true that the black markets have become more active recently, since the authorities are no longer able to keep a tight lid on them after government rations were discontinued.
It is also true that you can get anything, if you have enough money. The prices are extremely high though. The average worker's monthly salary ranges from 60 to 70 won, and this will barely buy 200 grams of rice or one pack of cigarettes.
[To illustrate the degree that famine has had on North Koreans], some years back, Life Funds for North Korean Refugees invited a North Korean resident, Mr. Kang Chul Hwan who had been in a North Korean prison camp, to lecture meetings in several places in Japan.
Kang Chul Hwan [had been] confined in a prison camp … for ten years. … When he was released from the prison camp at age nineteen, he was only 153 cm (about 5 ft.) tall and weighed only 39 kg (about 86 lb.).
In the next ten years, he grew to 173 cm (about 5.8 ft.) and his weight increased to 75 kg (about 165 lb.) This demonstrates how malnutrition can affect growth.