GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 128

Research Institute for North Korean Society
http://www.goodfriends.or.kr/eng

North Korea Today 128th Edition May 2008

3 Die, 3 Collapse while Planting Rice Bongsan County, North Hwanghae Province
With Food Supplies Scarce, Prices Skyrocket
Table 1. Price of Grains in the Major Cities on May 15, 2008
Government Hopes To Secure Public Sentiments by Revealing US Food Assistance
Hand-Food-Mouth Disease (HFMD) Originated From China Alarms the Health Department of North Korea
A Women Involved in Prostitution Sentenced to Two-Years of Reeducation
Criticized Over Forcing Her Daughter To Marry, Woman Attempts Suicide
Everyone in Our Family Works
Residents Shake Their Heads at Having To Buy Rat Poison That's More Expensive Than the Markets


“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.”

3 Die, 3 Collapse while Planting Rice Bongsan County, North Hwanghae Province
On May 15th at a collective farm in Bongsan County, North Hwanghae Province, 6 workers who were planting rice seedlings collapsed. The workers were forced to work for a few days from dawn to dusk without eating, and this led to their sudden collapse. Emergency measures were taken to revive the workers, but 3 of the workers died while the other three remain unconscious. Although other workers are not in as a severe state as these 6 workers, many are unable to do their work properly because of the lack of food. In Yeonan County, South Hwanghae Province, cases continue to emerge of farm workers who report to work, only to faint or die while working. The authorities in these regions urgently reported the situation of the weakened farm workers and their inability to work properly, and demanded to know how much food the government was going to provide. One farm official commented, “it’s like throwing a stone into a river,” and said that the urgent requests would not bring about any response from the central government.

With Food Supplies Scarce, Prices Skyrocket
Food prices are once again increasing at a frightening pace. Although there are regional differences, the price of rice has exceeded 3,000won in many places, despite the efforts of the government to manage the rising prices.

In Hamheung and Chungjin, the price of rice reached 3,800won - but in Chungjin, the price of rice reached a high of 4,200won before settling down at 3,800won later in the day. Even in one day, it is normal to see the price of rice change by 200won to 500won depending on the time of day. With the price of grains rapidly increasing through most of the country, a state of unease is continuing to persist. More alarming, the increase in the price of maize is quite frightening. As recently as May 1st in big cities such as Pyongyang, Wonsan, Sinuiju, Nampo, and Sariwon, the price of maize was stable at an average price of 1,200won, but in the span of 15 days, the price of maize has risen to over 2,000won in some cities, and in the case of Hamheung, the price of maize recorded a high of 2,300won. Kang Keum-Hyuk(49), an exporter and importer, explained the increase in food prices by saying, “with rumors spreading that there is no food to be found anywhere in North Korea, the price of foodstuffs is increasing throughout the country.”



Government Hopes To Secure Public Sentiments by Revealing US Food Assistance
News that America would be providing 500,000 tons of food aid was spread to other cabinets through an official notice. “Because of the dignity of the Great General and the might of the military, America has agreed to provide 500,000 tons of food aid to North Korea beginning in the end of June.” The notice went on to say, “Do everything necessary to prevent other situations from taking place prior to the end of June.” Additionally, the notice asked to “spread the news of America’s aid to ease the populace’s concerns,” and issued other orders such as “mobilize the full capabilities of the farms.” Upon hearing this news, some residents from Nampo had a similar response and said “I don’t know how much aid we will be receiving, but when aid entered the country last year, with the exception of Pyongyang, average citizens did not receive much and the price of rice in the marketplaces failed to decrease.” The residents went on to say that when the aid enters the country, it would be nice if the common citizens were fed first.

Hand-Foot-Mouth Disease (HFMD) Originated From China Alarms the Health Department of North Korea
A public health alert was issued in Sinuiju on May 18th. The alert urged to strengthen prevention systems against Hand –Foot-Mouth Disease (HFMD;수족구병), a contagious disease caused by a fatal intestinal virus, originated from China. North Korean Health Authorities expressed concerns of a high fatality rate that HFMD could cause among young children. HFMD usually affects infants and children under the age of six. What is worse, considering the fact that a large number of children have suffered from malnutrition, which weakens their immune systems, once these kids are infected with HFMD, fatality is expected to reach 90%. Indeed, children’s patients who show symptoms of diarrhea and a high fever of unknown origin have already been increasing in downtown of Sinuiju.

A Women Involved in Prostitution Sentenced to Two-Years of Reeducation
A 24-year old woman (Shin), who was arrested for prostitution, was recently sentenced to two-years of reeducation. Shin was working at a towel factory in Shinuiju after graduating a junior in high school. She had been struggling to survive since her monthly pay as well as food rations were suspended. Shin once wanted to quit the job and earn money through market activities but she found it difficult due to her shortage of funds. In the meantime, she could not easily quit her factory job because she was afraid of losing her only source of income as well as food rations that were occasionally offered. As it became harder for her to feed her family, Shin started to do a side job introduced to her by a friend. Shin’s prostitution was finally uncovered by Anti-socialist inspections and she was arrested. Shin’s coworkers at the factory who heard of her arrest showed sympathy to Shin rather than criticizing her. Ju Hye-ran, Shin’s colleague at the factory, said that “I don’t think she wanted to do it. She did it because she had to do it for survival. After the inspections, male workers who were involved with Shin were identified at their workplace and position. They were not even considered to be arrested. I really don’t understand why they arrested only that poor girl and sent her to the reeducation center. Authorities should make more efforts to resolve the root-cause of all these social crimes. With the current ways to deal with social issues, such as Shin’s case, many more people who are socially vulnerable will become victimized.”

Criticized Over Forcing Her Daughter To Marry, Woman Attempts Suicide
A 46-year old woman living in Sonhak-ri, Eunduk County, in North Hamgyong Province had sent her 19-year old to marry a 42-year old widower with two children. The daughter didn't want to marry him, but her mother forced her to and received some money and rice in return. The daughter ran away from her new home less than a month after the marriage. The widower then came to the mother's home and created a scene, shouting that the mother and daughter conspired to cheat him out of his money. He demanded his money back. Neighbors, realizing what had happened from all the hoopla, severely criticized the mother by saying, "How could you basically sell your daughter like that no matter how difficult life was?" Not knowing where the daughter went and finding it difficult to withstand the cold gaze of her neighbors, the mother attempted suicide by drinking pesticide. Although she was discovered early enough to have her life saved, she is now living like a person who has lost her mind.

Everyone in Our Family Works
One family living in Yeokjuns-dong in Sinuijy has five members. Everyone in the family, which includes the grandfather, grandmother, father, mother, and daughter, are all working to make ends meet. Grandfather repairs shoes, grandmother sells cigarettes, gas lighters, and other items. She also runs, without a permit, a restaurant for students. Father is a teacher but also does private tutoring. Mother, who used to be a teacher, now only provides private tutoring. The daughter, who is 16-years old, works in the market helping shoppers carry their items. When only the father and mother worked as teachers, all they had to look forward to was grass porridge for meals. But now that the whole family is working, they have become relatively well-off and could afford a TV, washing machine, refrigerator, and a bicycle. This year, when the food prices shot up, they were selling off their household items one by one and focusing all their attention on obtaining food. Even so, they can eat corn meals and are better off than others. Ryum Chun-ho, the head of the household, says, "I am satisfied that we can at least afford to eat corn and salt, when others can't even eat porridge. We sometimes eat salted radish and tofu, but we try to be extra careful because we don't know how long we will have to endure this period of hardship." The daughter chimed in, "We all work in this family. Otherwise, we might starve to death."

Residents Shake Their Heads at Having To Buy Rat Poison That's More Expensive Than the Markets
In Saebyul County in North Hamgyong Province, the authorities forced residents to take three bag-fulls of rat poison at 150won each “to prevent an outbreak of hemmorhagic fever. But at the market, each bag costs 100won. The residents are confused at why they have to pay more to buy from the government. Some are shaking their heads, complaining that the government, which should be helping, is actually hurting the people and caring only to line their own pockets. Kim Kyung-oh (45 yrs. Old) says, "Even looking at minor matters like this, you can tell that this country is not designed to serve the people but something else."


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