"After the starvation of up to 1m people in the famine demonstrated the state's inability to feed its people, it was forced to turn a blind eye to the informal markets that sprang up. For residents of cities such as Hyesan, near the border with China, the opportunity to engage in illicit trade with Chinese merchants has been especially lucrative."
As a young radio announcer in the North Korean city of Hyesan, Park Ju-hui used to tread gingerly through streets strewn with corpses on her way to work. Nearly 20 years since the devastating famine of the mid-1990s, life is very different.
"Women are wearing clothes – from Japan or South Korea – that show off their figure if they have some money, and cosmetics from South Korea, too," says Ms Park, who defected to South Korea in 2012. She remains in touch with family in Hyesan thanks to a mobile phone illicitly brought from China. "Seven out of 10 homes have colour TV, and people can afford to make meat broth once a month . . . The quality of life has improved a lot."