GOOD Guide: to North Korea, Food for the Masses (sec. 4 of 10)
In 1994, North Korea was struck with a devastating famine. How many starved to death? We simply don't know for sure-it may have been as many as 2 million. Pyongyang denied the problem for months, and it wasn't until late in 1995 that the government, now blaming the problem on flooding, allowed international aid agencies access to the country.The result of continued food shortages is severe rationing, with the vast majority of food supplies being handed out through a nationwide system known as the Public Distribution System. Everyone must produce coupons (yanggwon) when they buy food. Most people, even in privileged Pyongyang, see fresh meat rarely and fish only occasionally; they subsist on a basic diet of rice, grains, and cabbage.Despite this, Pyongyang has done little to change the agricultural system that has proved to be such a failure. Farming is still done on large and inefficient collective farms, poor logistics lead to massive waste, and harvest yields are low by international standards. Many fear the scenario, suggested by USAID's Andrew Natsios, of a possible "second apocalypse"-continued poor harvests along with severe flooding and a lack of international food aid from China could combine to trigger another tragic famine.