Beyond the capital of Pyongyang is the harsher reality of poverty, hunger and desperation, North Korean defectors say.
“My family had decided to commit suicide because for three days we didn’t have anything to eat,” said one North Korean female defector to ITN in Seoul. “We decided to starve to death. We said let’s die. But then I wanted to survive. I sold the house for 30 kilos of rice.”
She escaped North Korea shortly after leader Kim Jong Un came to power last year — her identity kept secret because she left family behind. “To survive, I had to eat grass. People pick grass and leaves and use them to make soup,” said the defector who now lives in South Korea.
Reports out of North Korea suggest food prices have tripled in the past year.
More than 25% of North Korean children under the age of five suffered from chronic malnutrition in 2012, according to the National Nutrition Survey of North Korea, a report backed by UNICEF, the World Food Program and the World Health Organization. The report also found nearly one in three women suffered from anemia.
As many as 3.5 million people are estimated to have died during North Korea’s severe famine of the 1990s,according to South Korean NGO Good Friends Center for Peace, Human Rights, and Refugees. Official North Korean numbers estimate 220,000 people died.