Tuesday, June 06, 2006

North Korea’s Public Distribution System

North Korea has banned the buying and selling of grain by individuals at farmers' markets and ordered workers who abandoned their jobs during the famine of the 1990s to return to work, or be punished. It also announced it was reviving the Public Distribution System, under which only the state can distribute grain, through workplaces and schools.

Only 10 years ago, North Korea experienced a famine that killed from 500,000 to three million people, according to economists, demographers and aid agencies. Young children and the elderly were among the first victims. Many children who survived became orphans.

North Korea still hasn't recovered from the famine: After a decade of WFP assistance, a large number of children remain malnourished. According to WFP's most recent survey, more than a third of children up to six years old remain stunted. Large numbers of North Koreans continue to go to bed at night without the day's minimum caloric intake.

Even if North Korea were capable of delivering enough food to all its citizens, it's hard to believe that it would do so fairly. The government, which remains on a war footing against the United States, has long taken a portion of each year's harvest and put it into "war-preparation storage." It first feeds the elite class, including high-ranking military, intelligence, police and other law-enforcement officials, and then gives smaller rations, often less than the minimum needed to keep a person healthy, to the general population.

[Exceprt of an article by Kay Seok, International Herald Tribune] related
Kay Seok is the consultant on North Korea at Human Rights Watch.

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