Soldiers in North Korea’s army are being given months off at a time to scrounge around fields to find food, according to a new report that describes the dire state of the reclusive country’s food rations.
A photo purportedly showing North Korean soldiers rummaging through a corn field was published recently on Daily NK, a Seoul-based website that covers the North through a network of informants.
"The officers know better than anyone that they must feed their soldiers in order to maintain morale, and that rations of cornmeal with very few calories only serve to instill disillusionment among them,” a source from the northern Ryanggang Province told the website.
Other sources said many residents have been “expressing pity about the situation” and officers in Ryanggang Province have been "giving soldiers 2 to 3 months leave to gather food.”
The website says a poor harvest, a drought and international sanctions have left the government with reduced food rations.
“Even though the price of rice hasn't changed much in the markets, people are especially worried that the effects of international sanctions will continue to mount and soon cause even more problems,” a source told Daily NK.
Two North Korean soldiers have defected to South Korea in the last two months, with one of the soldiers found to have an enormous number of parasitic worms in his stomach. The worms, one of which was 11 inches, pointed to the hygiene and food problems that are commonplace in the Hermit Kingdom.
The BBC reported parasites can get into humans through contaminated food or “being bitten by an insect or by the parasite entering through the skin.”
The impoverished farmers of North Korea reportedly use human waste as fertilizer for its crops, the BBC reported. It's possible the feces is contaminating vegetables grown in the soil.
"North Korea is a very poor country and like any other poor country it has serious health problems," Andrei Lankov of Kookmin University told the BBC.
Lankov warned the health conditions in North Korea could be a problem for decades in South Korea if the two countries ever reunified.
Fox News' Katherine Lam contributed to this report.