South Korean NGO Good Friends says the North Korean government there totally stopped supplying food rations to its citizens.
The Buddhist welfare organization says promised Chinese aid of grain to North Korea has not arrived, and that has compelled Pyongyang to authorize people to buy food in private markets, which now operate around the clock.
Good Friends says the ruling communist party issued a directive May 26th that work units and individuals should fend for themselves. This can be understood as either a frank confession by the government of the severity of the situation there or that the government has abandoned efforts to solve the food crisis.
North Korea has long struggled to feed its people. A famine in the mid-1990's is believed to have killed hundreds of thousands of people. The United Nations Children's Fund estimates that one out of every three children in North Korea is stunted by malnutrition.
Seoul cut most food aid to Pyonygang following the sinking of a South Korean patrol vessel in March. An international investigation concluded a North Korean torpedo caused the Cheonan warship to explode, killing 46 sailors.
Some international entities, including the World Food Program and the European Union, provide some food and humanitarian assistance to North Korea but the aid is far short of what experts consider is required.