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North Korea's food shortage grows but elites remain unaffected, Seoul says

By Elizabeth Shim
North Korea's food shortage grows but elites remain unaffected, Seoul says
A North Korean waits with his tractor for a small pontoon to cross a tributary on the banks of the Yalu River near Sinuiju, North Korea. North Korea’s agriculture has not been producing enough food for the country’s population and rations supplied through the public distribution system continue to decline. File Photo by Stephen Shaver | License Photo

SEOUL, Sept. 27 (UPI) -- North Korea's food shortage is growing but the crisis has yet to affect the country's elite.

South Korea's unification ministry said Tuesday that North Korea is short 694,000 tons of food for fiscal year 2016 – which began in November 2015 and ends in October, Yonhap reported.

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Citing data from the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Program, the ministry told South Korean lawmakers food demand in North Korea was about 5.5 million tons, but food production only reached 4.8 million tons.

The food shortage is expanding.

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In 2014, North Korea's food shortage was estimated to be 340,000 tons and 407,000 tons in 2015.

In 2015, North Korea's grain production was hit heavily by a drought. A lack of fertilizer and other resources could have also contributed to the deficit, according to the report.

Pyongyang also continues to reduce official rations supplied through its public distribution system.

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The rations were reduced to 360 grams daily per person, down from 370 grams in the first quarter of 2016, and well below the U.N.-recommended amount of 600 grams daily per person.

But the malnutrition problem hasn't stopped North Korea's elite from affording the best for their children.

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The unification ministry said North Koreans of economic means are able to afford up to $1,000 in private tutoring for their sons and daughters.

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"According to defector testimonies, North Koreans [of means] can afford to pay [$30] to [$500] in private education expenses on a monthly basis, and up to $1,000," the ministry statement read.

North Korea's food shortage has worsened in areas heavily hit by floods that washed away farmland and forced people out of their homes.

Seoul has mostly declined to reach out to the North with humanitarian assistance, citing continued provocations.

But civic groups in South Korea working with overseas Korean organizations have been able to deliver food, including instant noodles and flour to the North, Yonhap reported Tuesday.

The food was delivered to northeastern North Korea, but representative of the Korean Sharing Movement did not reveal the means of delivery.

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