Impacts On Health And Society

US congressmen and others who have visited North Korea tell stories of people eating grass and bark. Other reports talk of soldiers who are nothing more than skin and bones. Throughout the country there is starvation to rival the worst found in Africa. Chronic malnutrition has reached the point where many of its effects are irreversible.45

A study of children aged 6 months to 7 years found that 16 percent suffered from acute malnutrition — one of the highest rates of wasting in the world. Three percent of the children suffered edema, 61 percent were moderately or severely underweight and 62 percent suffered from chronic malnutrition, which can lead to irreversible stunting.*6

Furthermore, malnutrition weakens the immune system, leaving the population even more vulnerable to contagions. And the lack of fuel for boiling water has led to a rise in water-borne diseases. Without electricity and coal, hospitals and clinics have become harbors of despair, where only the hopeless go for treatment.*7

The situation in DPRK has rendered the country even more vulnerable to natural disasters. The country lacks the energy reserves to recover from the natural disasters of 1995-1997, much less to withstand future such disasters. The infrastructure is fragmented and in disrepair. There is a very real threat that portions of the infrastructure, such as the electrical grid, may fail altogether. Complete electrical grid failure would result in a near-complete crop loss.*'

So far, the people of DPRK have faced this crisis together. But continued deprivation may very well lead to rivalry, regional fragmentation, social breakdown, and internecine fighting. Rural society is currently faring better than the urban population, and is actually absorbing urban workers to help meet the rising labor demands of agriculture. But worsening conditions and widespread flight from the cities could lead to violent confrontations. It is even possible that rural instability could eventually result in civil war.

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