North Korea is reportedly importing animal feed from China for human consumption. And in a sign of just how desperate the reclusive regime is, the poor-quality feed is being fed to its powerful military forces, amid reports soldiers are deserting to forage for food. Civilians are even more vulnerable to food shortages: the World Food Programme (WFP) estimates a third of the population is undernourished, and last week a WFP spokesman reported North Korea had a “severe winter and a poor vegetable harvest.” Compounding the problem, Pyongyang just confirmed an outbreak of foot-and-mouth-disease. To stop the virus’s spread, animals have to be killed and buried ahead of this year’s rice planting, yet another blow for a nation dependent on oxen for plowing.
Through its embassies, the now “frantic” nuclear power is appealing directly to foreign governments for food aid. (In November the WFP announced it raised only one-fifth of the funding needed for its operations there.) However, with world food prices rising and nations increasingly resistant to North Korea’s erratic and bellicose demands, Pyongyang has received few offers of help.