Posts Tagged ‘Hunger’

In the days leading up to tech the cast, designers, and crew are all hungry for opening weekend.

Our director located a clip displaying a very different type of hunger.  Note:  despite it’s very short length, the video is difficult to watch.


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SMUGGLER:  You believe the Arduous March was worldwide, don’t you? You believe the entire world goes hungry every night.

MINJEE:  Of course. It’s in the news.

SMUGGLER:  This is the same news that gives you five new recipes for preparing tree bark into a stew so you don’t complain when food rations fall short.

– You For Me For You, scene 15 by Mia Chung

From Amnesty International:

Crippling food shortages exacerbated by government policies in North Korea have caused widespread illness as thousands are forced to survive on so-called “wild foods” such as grass and tree bark, according to testimonies obtained by Amnesty International in a new report.

Hwang, a 24-year-old man from Hwasung, North Hamgyong province, was homeless and lived alone from the age of nine. Foraging for wild foods was his only option to avoid starvation.

“I ate several different kinds of wild foods, such as neung-jae, which is a wild grass found in the fields. It’s poisonous – your face swells up the next day. Other kinds of grass and some mushrooms are also poisonous so you could die if you picked the wrong one,” says Hwang.

Wild foods like seaweed and mushrooms are traditionally a supplementary part of the North Korean diet, especially in rural areas. But as food shortages have intensified, the population has come to rely more on wild foods that have no nutritional value, simply to fend off hunger.

Many of these non-traditional wild foods can be poisonous and cause severe digestive problems. The UN has found that diarrhoea caused by wild foods is among the leading causes of malnutrition among children under 5.

Amnesty International’s report, the Crumbling State of Health Care in North Korea, reveals how the North Korean government has been unable to feed its people and,in violation of international law, has refused to cooperate fully with the international community to receive food aid.

The chronic food shortages have forced North Koreans to eating barely digestible or even poisonous plants, consigning the most needy to hunger and illness.

Amnesty International has documented how North Koreans have been adding grass or roots to existing foodstuffs to make food go further, such as mixing grass with ground corn to make corn gruel. Hwang’s diet consisted of wild foods and other sources that were equally poor in nutrition.

“Sometimes I mixed corn powder with pine tree bark, which gave me bowel problems but I needed to add something to my food to satiate my hunger. I also ate the leftover ingredients after making corn alcohol and tofu. I knew all these foods had little nutritional value, but I still ate them to fill my stomach,” says Hwang.

In the early to mid-1990s, unable to combat the growing food crisis and refusing to seek international assistance, the North Korean government actively encouraged the population to forage for alternative or wild foods instead, such as roots, grasses and stalks, promoting them as healthy and safe sources of nutrients. Since then, food rations have either been suspended or dramatically reduced.

By 1996, the height of the famine of the 1990s, the UN estimated that wild foods accounted for some 30 per cent of the North Korean diet.  Never shaking off chronic food insecurity, North Korea again suffered a severe food crisis in 2006-2007, and a World Food Programme 2008 assessment found that North Koreans’ consumption of wild foods had increased by nearly 20 per cent since 2003-2005.

Thousands are estimated to have starved to death in North Korea as recently as February this year after a botched currency revaluation.

Hwang, who left North Korea in September 2001, was among a growing number of homeless children – or “kkotjebi” – who had either lost their parents due to starvation or whose parents had abandoned them or went to China to find a job. He says his irregular and sporadic meals brought on digestive problems.

“I normally ate one meal a day. I was always hungry. If I had something to eat, I would eat it all. Even if I was full, I would continue eating because I didn’t know when I would have the chance to eat again.

“Also because I was homeless, I couldn’t take the food with me, so I just finished it in one go. Whenever I ate too much, I suffered from indigestion, including stomach ache and diarrhoea.”

As the food shortages worsened, North Korea’s population relied more heavily on wild foods and ventured to varieties that can be dangerous, especially among young children and the elderly.

Park, a 27-year-old man from Chongjin, North Hamgyong province who left North Korea in April 2007, also had adverse reaction from eating wild foods.

“I foraged for wild foods in the mountains.  Once I almost died eating mushrooms that were poisonous. Some wild greens or roots can be dangerous or difficult to digest.  During a particularly rough patch, I also ate food you normally feed to pigs.”

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When Jong-ho got sick,
I stole and lied and cheated to feed him.
I read all the nutrition pamphlets, followed every recipe.
My son grew round, almost fat.
His wrists were thick. His toes expanded.
I thought maybe I had over-done it.
But Heejay knew better. He knew it was an illusion.
One day, Heejay touched Jong-ho’s stomach,
and his finger left an impression: the skin didn’t spring back. The beautiful weight that I had cultivated…
It wasn’t real.
It was just water.
Jong-ho got sick and then…
It happened so fast.

     I did my best.
I did everything possible.

You For Me For You, scene 15

An article about the effects of starvation from

“Often, the first symptoms of starvation are digestive in nature. A person or animal suddenly denied food will feel extremely ravenous for several days, but then slowly be able to ignore the feeling to some degree. Pain in the stomach often quickly develops, then can turn into digestive and waste-related syndromes such as severe and painful constipation followed by uncontrollable diarrhea. Early symptoms of starvation include faintness, weakness, and dizziness. Thirst may also rapidly increase.

Symptoms of starvation tend to become more visible of time. Fat cells in the face and around the eyes tend to dissipate rapidly, giving the victim a sunken or hollowed appearance. Coordination may decrease, and simple tasks may become difficult. The body slowly becomes emaciated, though the feet and hands may swell with retained water, causing edemas. A starving person or animal may feel increased sensations of cold, as body temperature begins to drop rapidly with prolonged starvation.

Internally, symptoms of starvation begin wreaking havoc on the bodily systems. Blood level drops, and severe anemia or iron-deficiency begins to occur. The body works to protect its most vital organs by devouring fat and muscle stores to help support heart and brain function. Mental function decreases throughout the process as the brain is continually deprived of necessary nutrients.

As the condition progresses toward fatality, mental symptoms become more extreme. Many victims fall into a chronic listlessness, unable to move even for basic bodily needs. Some begin to have vivid hallucinations and suffer confusion, vertigo, and vivid dreams. Some ritual starvation is undertaken to achieve these visions, but the starving person must quickly return to care and food quickly to avoid death.

Victims who die of starvation-related causes usually do so by going into cardiac arrest. When the heart can no longer support itself on the body’s resources, it has no choice but to cease functioning. Some victims fall into a coma for several days before this occurs.

Starvation is a prolonged and brutal death, marked with extreme discomfort and loss of functions throughout. Even those who undertake the process voluntarily, so as to lose weight or as part of a political statement, may suffer permanent organ damage or harm to the metabolism. If a person or animal appears to be suffering enforced starvation due to abuse or lack of resources, it is important to alert welfare authorities as quickly as possible. Those in advanced stages of the condition cannot simply return to normal eating, but must be guided back toward health by medical professionals.”

[NOTE:  Some of the following images are rather disturbing.]

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According to the Daily NK on July 2, 2012:

(The Daily NK is a newspaper based in South Korea, so pardon any typographical irregularities)…

World Food Programme reports during the month of July, North Koreans received only half the amount of recommended food, rations have been reduced down to half what they should be 300 grams per day.

Between drought and flood damage, crops have suffered and the distribution system is failing to meet the needs of the people.

Due to unrelenting poor weather condition this past July, North Korean food rations per person, already at the minimum recommended amount, were cut in half.

United Nations affiliated organization, the World Food Programme (WFP) recorded that from July 1st until the 15th, food distribution in North Korea was 370 grams per person per day, but during the second half of the month rations were reduced to a mere 300 grams, revealed a Voice of America broadcast two days ago. The World Food Programme puts the recommended amount of food per day at 600 grams minimum.

According to a North Korean based-WFP local official, rations consist of 20-30% rice and 70-80% corn. During the summer, barley, potatoes, wheat and other crops are included in the distribution.

From January until March, rations were maintained at 395 grams per person, and in April they were increased to 400 grams. In May, rations were reverted back to 395 grams and June again saw a slump, down to 380 grams per person.

The WFP attributes the decline in rations to various natural disasters, such as drought and flooding have led to extensive damage of cropland across North Korea.

The WFP estimates these ration shortages will continue to be severe until harvest time arrives in November.

To offer a context:  300 grams of food is roughly equivalent of about 2/3 a cup.

The below picture is a little dated in terms of what North Korea’s current food rationing is, but it offers a good comparison to the rest of the world.

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In July of 2010, Amnesty International released an eye opening study of North Korea’s crumbling healthcare system.

Generally speaking, North Korea is supposed to provide free healthcare access to all of its citizens.  However due to mounting food shortages and a lack of access to medication, the system has fallen into a corrupt and nonfunctioning nightmare.

Highly recommended reading, which you can find for download at: NK_HealthCare_Amnesty.

Some highlights from the report:

Page 18:

According to the WHO, North Korea spent less than US $1 per person in 2006.   The global average is $716.

Page 20:

Health workers were often not paid and thus, needed to be recompensed for their services in order to survive…  Unofficial payments were especially prevalent for technical medical service, such as surgery or treatment that entails further tests, x-rays or hospitalization.

Page 22:

Doctors and nurses treat you better once you give them a bottle of alcohol or cigarettes.

Page 24:

Most of the North Koreans interviewed by Amnesty International described health facilities that functioned without adequate medical equipment and supplies, and health workers recycled medical supplies until worn, sometimes with little regard to hygiene and safety. Witnesses described how doctors and nurses re-used needles, which over time were severely dulled due to overuse and little attempt was made to properly sterilise them. Um, a 21-year- old woman from Chongjin, North Hamgyong province, received an injection at a hospital in 2004: “The doctor took a used syringe and dipped the needle in boiling water for about ten seconds before giving me my injection.”

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