The latest DPRK national nutrition survey is out, and it appears to be credible. The 'good' news is that the focus is on chronic malnutrition and its after-effects rather than frank starvation. Sino-NK parses the details:
In terms of starvation, Ryanggang-do (량강도, 两江道) seems to have the worst problems with chronic malnutrition as around 12.1 % of children aged zero to five years of age suffer from severe chronic malnutrition (Report, p. 21). But even Pyongyang registered some significant levels of severe chronic malnutrition indicating every region and municipality in DPRK had experience of “belt-tightening”. However, when it comes to absolute numbers of cases, South Hamgyong Province is the unfortunate leader of the pack. Pyongyang, where the elites live, but where there is little room for growing food, has an estimated 10% of North Korea’s cases of severe acute malnutrition (Report, p. 66).
So being in the North Korean overclass gets you lots of privileges, but these don’t necessarily include eating much. This point was also made clear in Barbara Demick’s Nothing to Envy, and it does indicate some form of regime decay. Roger Cavazos notes that Pyongyangers don’t have access to arable land. But it also appears to be true that the Kim dynasty doesn’t appear to have either the will or the ability to starve the little people in order to feed its functionaries. And here’s why no-one wants Korean reunification right now:
The report also highlights structural and capacity-building issues. In a future reunification, the task will be to build a logistics system that can keep 75 million Koreans fed, clothed and in business as well as incorporating a fairly large proportion of people who are permanently stunted (either physically or mentally). There will be a large requirement for special education services and vocational programs in the North.
If the dynasty accepted Chinese rational authoritarianism tutelage then one can imagine a scenario evolving where a a mainly adequately fed, constructively occupied North Korean population would generate an irresistible pressure towards reunification, along with a viable infrastructure. This may be part of the calculation behind KJU’s nuclear adventures. Keeping the place an aggressive ruin may be his best medium term bet.