North Korea is calling on its citizens to eat less so its government can have more room to restructure its economy, which is predicted to continue to underperform, according to media reports.
A high-ranking official reportedly told citizens in Juche, North Korea’s official philosophy, that consumption must fall when its country’s people must also give up luxuries such as smoking, chewing tobacco and drinking coffee.
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The Bloomberg news agency reported that the official, Kim Han Sol, described North Korea’s severe food shortages in an official report that has not been made public but has been shared in closed forums.
“Reform is not only desirable, it’s also practical,” the newspaper cited the report as saying.
Citing anonymous sources, Bloomberg said the call on citizens to reduce their consumption was “the latest in a series of instructions from a new younger generation of leaders who are determined to bring about change”.
Other reports described how “authoritarian family doctors” had ordered academics to work harder to solve the country’s chronic food shortage.
Last month the UN’s top human rights investigator expressed deep concern over “severe and growing food insecurity” in North Korea, which has been facing a highly publicised political system that isolated its citizens from outside and forced them to eat and suffer.
“Without food and other essentials, people cannot focus on their day-to-day lives,” said Michael Kirby, who has been appointed to assess the human rights situation in North Korea in October and December.
“It is hard to understand how and why, if North Korea has so much food, there is such malnutrition,” he said in his fourth review of the country’s compliance with the international covenant on civil and political rights.
The government introduced a new diet this year called “blessed life”, according to the Yonhap news agency, which reported it included rice, fish, meat and garlic.
More than 5 million people in North Korea are reportedly at risk of a severe food crisis this year, the International Crisis Group warned in a report last month.
The crisis group said North Korea’s economy had underperformed for much of the past 25 years and was projected to grow “slightly” in 2018.
The World Food Programme, which has been distributing food to vulnerable areas of North Korea, said recently that the programme had been suspended since March.
• This article was amended on 16 May 2018 to add figures from the International Crisis Group.