Page last updated at 14:46 GMT, Wednesday, 11 October 2006 15:46 UK

North Koreans face daily struggle

By Jill McGivering
BBC News

Schoolgirls look on as men fish in the North Korean town of Sinuiju, opposite the Chinese border city of Dandong on 10 October 2006
North Korea's economy is in crisis

Existing sanctions against North Korea have already taken their toll on the country's economy.

North Korea is such a closed society that it is hard to get an accurate picture of daily life there.

Many visitors only see Pyongyang - its big Soviet-style apartment blocks, broad streets, cars and street vendors.

But the capital is very much a showcase for the outside world, somewhere only privileged North Koreans can live.

In many rural areas, daily life is a basic struggle for enough to eat.

The World Food Programme estimates more than a third of the country's children are chronically malnourished.

Economic crisis

Survival is especially hard in the harsh winters. In the towns, supplies of electricity and water are sporadic.

Outside them, the small rural houses do not have a direct water supplies and people use wood-burning stoves to keep warm.

Military parade in Pyongyang
Only privileged North Koreans are able to live in the capital

The infrastructure, too, is basic - with few surfaced roads.

There is an extensive railway network but it is primitive and, like many things in North Korea, badly in need of investment and modernisation.

Few people can afford cars. Most walk or use bicycles.

The health and education systems used to be a source of pride in North Korea. Now some reports suggest they too are struggling.

The economy is clearly in crisis.

North Korea simply cannot produce enough food to feed its population. And at the same time, it is seeing exports dwindle.

Japan used to be an important market for fish and textiles, but Tokyo's latest sanctions have ended that.

Future South Korean investment is uncertain as well.

And the key player is China - which supplies the North with much-needed food and oil and buys North Korean minerals and metals.

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