“Insufficient production, a deficient diet, lower incomes and rising prices mean that 6.4 million vulnerable North Koreans – most of them children, women and the elderly – will need food assistance totalling 500,000 tons next year,” according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP). The DPRK has been hit by a decade of floods, droughts and economic hardship, and the agencies reported that most of the 16 million people receiving subsidized cereals from the Government-run Public Distribution System (PDS) averaging 300 grams per person per day – half a survival ration – cannot make ends meet. They turn to more expensive private markets yet “they are still not able to cover their basic energy requirements,” FAO and WFP said. The report, which followed a joint assessment mission in September and October by the Rome-based food agencies, noted that, increasingly, “the most critical problem for poor households is their lack of access to basic and nutritious food because of declining purchasing power.” “A balanced diet is out of reach for all but a few PDS-dependent households,” it added. “The situation remains particularly precarious for children in kindergartens, nurseries, orphanages and primary schools, pregnant and nursing women, and elderly people.” While the prices of state-subsidized rice and maize rationed through the PDS have remained low and stable, prices in private markets have risen dramatically since the introduction of economic reforms in mid-2002. Last month, rice cost as much as 600 won a kilo in such markets – almost 30 per cent of a typical monthly wage – compared to the 2003 average of 120 won; maize was 320 won a kilo, up from last year’s peak of 110 won. In September, one euro bought 1,600 won on the parallel market. The typical wage earner’s family now spends one-third of its monthly income on PDS rations that meet only half its minimum caloric needs. Another one-third is spent on non-food essentials such as rent, heating and clothing. The remainder is insufficient to purchase enough food in private markets to meet the rest of the family’s very basic needs.