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Experienced North Korean Aid Worker Says Hunger Crisis Imminent

North Korea has significantly cut public food aid and could be heading toward a hunger crisis, said Katharina Zellweger, head of a Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation’s office in Pyongyang and “one of the most experience aid workers” in the country, according to Agence France-Presse.

“Food rations have been cut to as low as 150 grammes (5.3 ounces) a day per person in some parts of the country as foreign donations collapse and higher international prices make imports more expensive, said Katharina Zellweger,” the news service writes. “Food supplies to the estimated population of 23 million people have been controlled through a public distribution system for decades,” AFP notes. “Diplomats say the rations have been halved over the past 18 months. One hundred grammes of rice produces about 250-350 calories a day, experts said.” Zellweger reported seeing “a lot more malnourished children” during recent travels in the country. However, “[a]t the same time, Zellweger, who has been active in North Korea for 15 years, said there are definite signs of change” in the capital, such as the emergence of a “new moneyed middle class,” AFP writes (6/28).  

In related news, Global Post’s “The Rice Bowl” blog reports on a new video filed over several months by a North Korean journalist.

“There are some images we might expect to see in a reclusive state known to be experiencing a famine – children caked in dirt begging for food from people who have nothing to give. But the video also sheds new light on how severe the food shortage is. For the first time, it seems, the all-powerful army, which used to be immune from famine, is also going hungry, reports the Australian Broadcasting Corp, which obtained the exclusive footage this week after it was smuggled out to China,” according to the blog (Lodish, 6/27). In the video, a “young North Korean soldier is filmed saying to the reporter’s hidden camera that ‘everybody is weak,'” a second AFP article reports. “Within my troop of 100 comrades, half of them are malnourished,” he said (6/27).

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.