“Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish”

North Korea, officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, holds an extreme wealth gap between the elite members of the Party and the rest of the population. Ranging from economic capacity and social opportunities, various Non-Profit Organizations (NPOs) and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) have reported serious problems of malnutrition, high infant mortality rates, and absence of human rights. In contrast, political higher-ups bathe in gluttonous luxuries. Dennis Rodman, a former NBA player who had visited North Korea numerously for Kim Jong-Eun’s birthday, said that the supreme leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea holds a “seven-Star life”[1].

Sinpyong Lake, North Korea (Flickr @yeowatzup)
Sinpyong Lake, North Korea
(Flickr @yeowatzup)

While the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) highlight the growing problems of poverty and malnutrition, the North Korean government does not.According to Report of the commission of inquiry on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, amongst various violations and discriminations prevalent in North Korea, it concerns itself with the state’s use of food as a controlling mechanism for the population. Those whom the state authorities deem to be crucial in maintaining the regime are prioritized over those believed to be expendable.[2] As the finding shows, North Korea government intentionally has created systematic inequality to maintain the power relation between the wealthy and the masses. The selected few accrue more while the many starve.

The Monitoring and Evaluation Bulletin Report – Second Quarter 2014 presented by WFP describes the most recent pattern of food consumption of North Korean household as follows: A typical Korean diet consists of cereal, vegetables, and condiments (such as bean paste) which lacks both macro and micronutrients.[3] Most North Korean people struggle with malnutrition due to an unhealthy diet as their main intake is vegetables and beans but not meat which results in a lack of protein and other vital micronutrients. Moreover, the report also shows that household food consumption has worsened in the 2rd quarter (Apr-Jun) of 2014 compare to that of the 3rd quarter (Jul-Sept) 2013; 73 percent and 87 percent fall in the borderline and poor consumption categories in the 3rd quarter of 2013 and 2nd quarter of 2014 respectively. What it demonstrates is that the typical consumption amount of a North Korean household hugely depends on environmental or seasonal circumstances. During the harvest season, the consumption goes slightly up while people eat relatively little in post-harvest. This is limited to North Korea, as nations such as South Korea, China, and Japan do not have dietary intakes dependent on the fluctuating availability of foods. In the neighboring countries, food is experienced for satiation, rather than for survival as it is in North Korea.

While most of North Korea struggles with hunger and extreme poverty, Kim Jong-Eun’s extravagance only increases as time passes. When Kim Jong-Il, Kim Jong-Eun’s father, was ruling the North Korea, his extravagance cost an average of $300 million dollar a year, an amount totaling the yearly incomes of thousands of North Koreans.[4] However, according to the U.N report, luxury good expenditure in the DPRK rose to $645.8 million in 2012, the year Kim Jong-Eun took power. Kim Jong-Eun has imported luxury whiskey and cognac, dozens of Mercedez-Benz vehicles, high-end musical recording equipment, and a personal yacht which costs over 10 million dollars and much more.[5] Kim Jong-Eun also spends considerable amount of money to buy gifts to keep the loyalty of elites. Despite the United Nations and many other countries’ agreement to limit or prohibit exportation to North Korea, in order to restrain the government’s actions, such boycotting have not been kept successfully. Countries who do not align with the United States, such as Iran, Russia, and China have been suppliers to North Korea, while most western nations attempt to use embargoes in order to stifle North Korea’s economic activity and to politically isolate the country. In addition, a number of profit prioritizing firms still sell their products to North Korea in underground markets while the embargoes continues at the surface level. The effects of these limitations are actually felt by the citizens, whose living conditions are more sensitive to fluctuations in the economy, rather than the protected expenses of Kim Jong-Eun.

In 2013, the WFP estimated that as little as 150 million USD can eliminate poverty and help improve human rights in North Korea. The amount is equal to approximately 1 to 2 percent of the annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the country. More extreme comparisons can be made by comparing the cost of eradicating poverty and the amount of Kim Jong-Eun’s personal purchases — if one sixth of Kim Jong-Eun’s personal purchases was spent on the North Korean people, starvation could be eliminated. Moreover, the cost of a single nuclear rocket test, purported to act as bargaining power against the United States and which only raises tension in East Asia, costs 1.5 billion USD. If 10 percent of this amount was devoted for improvement of living conditions of North Korean, malnutrition, scarcity, and high infant morality rates would no longer be an issue for the masses.

The disparity between the wealthy and the majority of the population is so extreme that Kim Jong-Eun can spend 650 million USD, which is equivalent to 5 to 6 percent of North Korea’s GDP for his personal consumption while the annual income of rest of North Korean individual is only 1,800 USD. BupRyoon, a South Korean monk, poignantly described the situation of the people in the nation, saying “Unless the living condition of North Koreans get improved shortly, the race between South and North Korea will be differentiated within few decades.”


[1] Craggs, Ryan. “Kim Jong Un’s Luxurious ‘Seven-Star’ Lifestyle Of Yachts, Booze And Food.”The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 17 Oct. 2013. Web. 25 Oct. 2014. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/10/17/kim-jong-un-luxury-seven-star-lifestyle-north-korea_n_4113788.html>.

[2] “Report of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.” Report of the Commission of Inquiry on HR in the Democratic People S Republic of Korea. The United Nations of Human Rights, Office of the High Commisioner for Human Rights, 7 Feb. 2014. Web. 27 Oct. 2014.

[3] “PRRO 200532 Quarterly M&E Bulletin, April to June 2014.” Protracted Relief and Recovery Operation (PRRO) 200532 “Nutrition Support for Children and Women” in DPR Korea. Web. 23 Oct. 2014. <http://www.wfp.org/sites/default/files/PRRO 200532 M&E Bulletin 2014_2nd quarter.pdf>.

[4] Ryall, Julian. “Kim Jong-un Out-spending Extravagant Father: UN Report.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 29 Sept. 19. Web. 23 Oct. 2014. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/northkorea/10648300/Kim-Jong-un-out-spending-extravagant-father-UN-report.html>.

[5] Alfred, Charlotte. “North Korea’s Kim Jong Un Buys More Luxury Goods Than His Father: UN Report.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 18 Feb. 2014. Web. 23 Oct. 2014. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/18/north-korea-luxury-goods_n_4808823.html>.