A North Korean soldier who defected to South Korea last month was 180 cm tall but weighed only 46 kg, compared to the normal healthy weight of 71 kg. He told South Korean authorities that he was fed on rice in the military but it was only accompanied by pickled radishes.
If this is the level of nutrition of frontline soldiers, who are the first to get rations, other people in the impoverished country must be in even worse shape.
Millions of North Koreans starved to death during the massive famine that swept the nation in the 1990s. North Koreans in their late teens to early 20s nowadays were babies back then. After suffering severe malnutrition during a key growth stage, there is no way they can measure up physically to their peers in other countries.
A study of the physical condition of North Korean defectors aged 19 to 29 shows that they are on average 8.8 cm shorter than their South Korean peers and 14.3 kg lighter.
The World Food Programme and Food and Agriculture Organization have said North Korea requires 210,000 tons of food aid next year. The food situation has not worsened drastically from last year's 410,000 ton shortfall, but many deaths from starvation are reported in Hwanghae Province, and even soldiers are suffering from malnutrition. This is because the regime has diverted food to Pyongyang and the ruling elite, who are considered to be to prop up young North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s still-shaky regime.
Yet amid this abject misery, North Korea spent US$850 million just to fire a long-range missile in April of this year, enough money to buy 2.5 million tons of corn from China which could have fed 19 million North Koreans for a year. It recently spent another $330 million to build giant statues of nation founder Kim Il-sung and his son, former leader Kim Jong-il, as well as an amusement park modeled after a Swiss theme park.
These tales of starvation in North Korea proves Nobel laureate Amartya Sen's argument that famine often occurs not from a lack of food but from abusive mechanisms of state control in distributing food.