"The threat of a calamitous 1990s-style famine has fallen substantially because of the emergence of grass-roots private markets across North Korea and a U.N. system for nutrition monitoring. Still, large numbers of people stand to suffer severe hardship, although probably not death, joining the ranks of the millions of North Koreans who go hungry even when harvests are good and food aid arrives.
Roughly a third of children and mothers are malnourished, according to a recent U.N. study. The average 8-year-old in the North is seven inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter than a South Korean child of the same age.
This year is anything but good. Floods last August ruined part of the main yearly harvest, creating a 25 percent shortfall in the food supply and putting 6 million people in need, according to the U.N. World Food Program.
Over the winter, drought damaged the wheat and barley crop, according to a recent report in the official North Korean media. That crop normally tides people over during the summer "lean season" until the fall harvest.
North Korea's ability to buy food, meanwhile, has plunged, as the cost of rice and wheat on the global market has jumped to record highs, up 50 percent in the past six months."