The famines which struck the North Korean countryside with such barbarity during the 1990's after the collapse of the public food distribution system have become infamous worldwide for their horror.
They have also become synonymous with the countries very name, and were responsible for giving birth to slogans like "Let's Eat Two Meals A Day" and of the regime coining the famine as the "Arduous March." After a famed march through snowy mountains which Kim Il-Sung and his fellow guerillas had supposedly endured during their fight against Korea's Japanese occupational forces.
It was during this famine that up to two million people died of starvation or it's associated ailments. Common colds, diarrhea and minor infections which could have easily been cured were far too taxing upon the emaciated bodies of the common peoples, and even lower ranking city dwellers like those of Pyongyang and Chongjin who lacked fields to farm from.
It is a tragedy beyond words which gave rise to creativity and ingenuity amongst a hearty people, but also criminal exploits by the military and party cadres seeking to exploit an already overly repressed population.
As the North Korean regime was tiptoeing around the food crisis in the 90's, the military was stockpiling food and other household goods we Westerners take for granted during a time when even socks were a luxury across North Korea's expansive countryside.
Official press releases declared that the US and it's associated 'imperialist puppets' were blockading food from entering the country, and while sanctions may have indeed helped to impede the countries means of procuring food and medicine it was by no means the total cause.
The famine which the country has become so well known for gave rise to private and highly illegal food markets across the country. Families which were desparate to feed themselves and their children began to sell everything they owned and even that which they did not in order to scrape by. Which in North Korean society is highly illegal and classified as an 'economic crime' derived from Capitalist subversion.
However, these means in themselves are simple survival instinct, and not what we're here to address - but are instead a precursor to the real topic.
The international community was reaching out as well during these hard times. Attempting to deliver food aid into the country which immediately fell into the hands of powerful military figures, party cadres and even lower ranking officers that began dividing it up among themselves. In their trucks they took these stockpiles to places decimated by the famine, and instead of delivering food to the countries populace free of charge - as is standard in the DPRK's public food distribution system, they began to hawk it at exorbitant rates on the black market.
Prices which left many scrounging for days in order to get one day's worth of meals. Many went up to three or four days without eating in the hardest of times because of this. With children and the elderly being the hardest hit, along with anyone who worked in manual labour as no one was receiving their government rations any longer.
One must be careful to remember that this came at a time when no one seemed to be well off. The electricity was long gone, the trains were barely running, the factories had no work, mines were closed and not even teachers and radio personalities had been paid their salaries in years.
The system collapsing in on it self left even those privileged by North Korea's rigorous caste system to fend for themselves. Thus giving birth to a new breed of criminality throughout the military regime which saw them capitalizing upon some of the worst tragedies that had faced the country yet.
It leaves one speechless to think how many might have survived the famine had corruption not been so pervasive. How many would still be walking the Earth helping to bolster a still shattered economy if not for those elements of the military which caused food prices to skyrocket and desperately needed supplies to be hoarded?
It is baffling to say the least. Today, ordinary North Koreans still struggle with malnutrition, but the famine is reportedly long gone. This is not to say the North's communal farms are alive and well, this portion of the Korean peninsula has always been a difficult region to farm after all. But things are at least better off than they were.