North Korea Today No. 127

Research Institute for North Korean Society

North Korea Today 127th Edition May 2008
People Starving to Death in Most South Hwanghae Province
Weakened Immune Systems Cause s Sudden Deaths
70-80% of Youth Stopping Schoolwork, South Hwanghae Province
People Busy Discussing Food Alternative
Grandmother Committs Suicide over Her Grandson’s Death
A Nursing Home in Shinpo County Seen 8 Deaths in One Month
Grave Concern for Mass Scale of Death within One Month
“Government Released Its Own Fund for the Last Time”
“Still Capable of Sustaining Ourselves? Far From It”
Government Is Aware That People Will Starve To Death”
A Rapid Increase in Crimes Committed by Discharged Soldiers
Table 1. Fluctuation of Grain Price at Pyongyang in the period of April - May, 2008

“Research Institute for North Korean Society of Good Friends, in order to bring news of the food crisis in North Korea more accurately and quickly, will increase its e-newsletter frequency to more than one issue per week. As such, the release dates might shift. Thank you for your understanding and attention to this looming crisis. We at Good Friends hope to be a bridge between the North Korean people and the world.”

People Starving to Death in Most South Hwanghae Province
In 20 cities and counties in South Hwanghae Province, with the exception of 1 or 2 places, cases of people who are dying of starvation are starting to emerge.

The lack of food supplies in farming regions is severe enough that its reputation as grain basket put to shame. South Hwanghae Province’s grain harvest has been drastically reduced because of the extensive damage caused by last year’s flood and because members of the military are personally watching over the supplies of rice reserved for military use.

The amount of rice that farms much reserve has increased, leading to a severe shortage of food available for farmers. One official said, “Usually, the region with the most pressing need for food is Kangwon Province, but right now it is Hwanghae Province. This is something that has not happened before. They used to say that the area facing the most difficulties was North Hamgyong Province but North Hamgyong Province is doing the best.

There is still news that people in North Hamgyong Province are starving to death, but because the food situation in other areas has become that much worse and there has been a substantial increase in the number of those who are starving to death, North Hamgyong Province has the highest standard of living.

South Hwanghae Province was affected the least during the Arduous March, but now, it is responsible for most of the deaths that are being reported. As a result of this, the government is planning to plant potatoes nationwide. The government is hoping to restore the faith and loyalty of the people by planting potatoes, which it says grows the quickest and has the highest amount of nutrients, but the problem is that they do not have any seeds.

There is a lot of discord because without any seeds, they can’t plant anything, but even if they had seed potatoes, the government would make fuss that the farmer has rebuke on the orders from the government. The official went on to say that “there is continued unrest and resentment among the people because the government is not doing anything while it still continues to make demands like these.”

Weakened Immune Systems Cause s Sudden Deaths
Amidst the increasing numbers of people who are dying from starvation, doctors are unanimously voicing their concerns that the immune systems of the populace have become dangerously weak. Jung Gwang-hyuk, a doctor from Sariwon, worried that “because everyone’s immune system is weak, even those who are breathing right now face the immediate danger of dying.”

Sung Ryung-hyae (53), a doctor from Haeju, said “If you look at the general case of South Hwanghae Province, there are 8 or 9 people out of 10 who are subsisting on nothing more than porridge water. The porridge itself is not properly made because of the lack of food, and even though people mix in things such as grass, the nutritional value of the porridge is quite low. As a result, people can faint or die without warning. Unlike older times when people got weaker before dying, now, there are many people who suddenly faint and die. This is the frightening consequence of a weakened immune system.”

Jang Hwa-sun (52), a physician from Wonsan, echoed this sentiment. “The majority of the people who are dying are farmers. During the Arduous March when there was no food, people died after being bed-ridden for one of two years and did not die suddenly. However, because of the weak state of people’s immune systems, even if they are able to eat, they face the risk of dying suddenly. Recently, a patient who suffered from malnutrition came to me. I gave him some maize-rice that I found with some difficulty, but he soon suffered from indigestion. Because his digestive functions were impaired, the patient suffered even though he had eaten and died shortly thereafter. I was shocked when I saw that.”

70-80% of Youth Stopping Schoolwork, South Hwanghae Province
In South Hwanghae Province, the effects of the food shortage on the education of young children are becoming evident. According to one official in South Hwanghae Province, “In areas where food supplies have fallen, there is a corresponding drop in the rate of school attendance among children. The rate of school attendance among children of military families in Haeju is clearly higher than other areas. In contrast, school attendance among children living in farming areas is only 20-30% while some children receive a certificate to transfer schools.” Even though children receive a transfer of school certificate, the vast majority of children do not report to their new school. Instead, they go to the mountains with their grandparents and dig up grass roots and greens to eat.

Kim Hyung-jin (12) of Bongsan-ri, Byuksung County in South Hwanghae Province, said that he is comfortable not going to school. Hyung-jin’s mother said that she is also more comfortable now because she does not have to deal with the many demands for items made by her child’s teachers, and the fact that her children are berated in front of class when he is unable to bring the requested items. “I feel so sorry for my child as it is because he has become so thin because of the food shortage, it is better not to send my child to school,” said the mother.

People Busy Discussing Food Alternative
It is literally true that even in Whesur-ri(외서리), Sungkan County(성간군), Jagang Province, most of the residents are living off grass porridge. Many families cannot afford to send their children to school and adults feel tired to go to work because of their malnutrition. Once people get together, they talk about fear for starvation. They are busy discussing what should be their food alternative. Park Sang-hee (45) even went up to Hoeryong city in the North Hamgyong Province looking for food believing it is no use only to sit and talk about bad food situation. She said she left home for food thinking she could get some corn from her aunt in law. She was sort of afraid of leaving her hometown where she has never left before, but seemed to be determined saying as long as she could get some food, being afraid does not matter at all.

Grandmother Commits Suicide over Her Grandson’s Death
Choi Sang-pil (23) who was a worker at a ceramic factory in Onsung, North Hamgyung Province had to return to home 3 months after being drafted to Sungun Youth Power Plant(선군청년발전소) in Mount Bakdu for one year working project. While working there, he was not well fed and finally his lung disease recurred. Not long after he returned to home, he died of the disease without any proper medication. At his funeral, his grandmother grieved for his death saying he could not eat, nor be dressed, nor be treated well for his disease. She would not let his cascade be buried gabbing it and saying “How can a youth go away before this old woman? I am the person who should die instead of him.” People around her were moved to tears seeing this. Even after the funeral, she visited his grave and wept bitterly for days. One day, her son found her dead at the grave. She drank caustic soda to kill herself. At this news, all the families and neighborhood were frustrated. They were lamenting deeply over their desperate living situation causing people even to kill themselves.

A Nursing Home in Sinpo County Seen 8 Deaths in One Month

It is already more than 8 people who were starved to death in a nursing home in Yanghwa, Sinpo County, South Hamgyong Province for last month. Those elderly were fed only with low grade corn or porridge made of it, which made their health dramatically deteriorate. However, there is no solution to this because food has been already run out. The nursing home was once regarded as one of the best nursing homes in the country, not any more though. One high official regretted that those elderly would die of starvation because of food shortage.

Grave Concern for Mass Scale of Death within One Month
People often compare today’s starvation to that of ‘Arduous March(고난의 행군)’. Ju Mi-young (44), a trading in Sariwon said, “At that time, people could not but die because the food distribution stopped abruptly. But, now we have been living without food distribution for 10 years and we know how to survive without food distribution. At that time, we even ate soil. But, it is not as bad as then. Now, people can get some food by doing business or eating grass roots. I even eat rice root.” One official in Sariwon said, “Sometime ago, the government we funded to cities and it worked out for those areas, but the rural areas are still dying. If we do not provide food, people will die in large number. We estimate that people will be dying from May. Even now, we often see people die on the streets in rural areas. The number of death of young and old homeless are increasing. Of course, it is not as many as that of Arduous March, but seeing the increasing number of homeless, the possibility is getting bigger of facing group deaths. Children in rural areas are spilling over onto streets. This is the reality of rural areas.” He explained the hardship of rural areas in this way.

“Government Released Its Own Fund for the Last Time”
As the food crisis worsens, in certain areas of the country, the high ranking officials seem to try to get the feel of how the people are living. According to some Central Party officials, they are tensed with the concerns that social unrest might occur without any food aid toward the people. A party official said that the concern was the reason why the party fund was released for the purchase of food in the cities to prevent potential disturbances. He continued that even though the party fund was released abruptly this time, it would also be the last time. The obvious reason is that not only does the party not have much fund to spare but also the needs of the party are in other objectives too. He claimed that the whole country would be in turmoil and that no industrial products are expected to come out without the party fund. He continued that the country has lost the capability to break through the food crisis.

“Still Capable of Sustaining Ourselves? Far From It”
A party official familiar with the news from the outside world said, “News from South Korea says that North Koreans developed the markets after the ‘March to the Hardship’ and therefore are capable of sustaining themselves. But we see it differently. What if we learned how to survive? The long-term malnutrition has severely weakened the immune system in our bodies. Even ordinary people pick up everything edible from the ground. People are not hesitant to steal anything edible they locate. We are not surprised to find that people pluck grass from the ground. There are areas where no grass exists. In those areas, there is ration of powder made of dried roots of rice plant. Sometimes a little amount of corn is added to the powder. Even the party officials complain about the hunger. Party officials used to say after their meals ‘Stomachs are full’. These days, they wipe out their dishes at meals and still they complain they are hungry. It is not so difficult to figure out what the situation is like. Just look at the party officials. Everyone is looking for something edible anywhere.

If someone thinks the situation in North Korea is better now than during the ‘Arduous March’, the person does not know what is going on in North Korea. In those days, deaths from the starvation started during winter and there was nothing anyone could do. Now is the springtime when there is grass on the ground and powder of roots of rice plant, and people seem to barely survive. Already deaths are occurring. How many more will have to die? It would be more honest if people frankly say they do not want to provide food aid. These people blame our government for not helping its own people and then say that therefore they should not provide food aid. What is the difference between these people and our government?”

Government Is Aware That People Will Starve To Death
The government officials are worried about the food shortage, but their priority always is on the security of the country precedes everything else. A Central Party official declared, “Our government is aware and ready for the fact that people will starve to death. Deaths of people will not bring down the entire country, that is our position.” He continued, “Last year, it was insisted that the damages from the flood should have been publicly revealed. But that only created a lot of arguments. The public revelation, after a lot of agonies, was expected to have led to some solution to the problem. But nothing happened. Now those who insisted on the public revelation were kicked out. The current environment is completely different. Nobody wants to speak out. In old days, there were people who tried to request some aid from South Korea informally, but there are none now. The new government in South Korea hurt the feelings of our government, and nobody dares to speak out. A review process will start in June throughout the country. Any aid from a foreign country will be the subject of the review. A review will be made on who the contact was, where the contact was and with whom, and how the aid was made. Because there were so many contacts made without the government approval, a detailed review will be conducted especially on who the contact was and how the contact was made.”

A Rapid Increase in Crimes Committed by Discharged Soldiers
Investigation of crime cases in Pyongsung during the last April and May reveals that the crime rate of discharged soldiers has been remarkably increasing. Discharged soldiers have been experiencing difficulties in getting a job or work because they stayed in military for a long time separated from society. As a result, they are getting more destitute. With food prices soaring, they tend to get involved in committing crimes. Robberies are the most frequent crime type occurring. They threaten and rob residents of money, stuffs, and food. Residents of Pyongsung report that all sorts of goods worth selling are stolen even in broad daylight, and the arrested turn out to be discharged soldiers in many cases. Furthermore, increasing is the number of crimes conducted by soldiers on service as well as discharged soldiers. It is frequent that soldiers took female to hills and rape even in daytime. Kang Hyeong-kuk (43) said, “The rise of food price seems to drive more discharged soldiers to Pyongsung. Women are victims of this concentration of strangers from other provinces. Female sellers are most vulnerable to robberies and young girls are main targets of rape crimes. So a glimpse of a man in military uniform scares women in this area.”

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