GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 131

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


North Korea Today 131st Edition 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.”

Deaths by Starvation Continues in Goksan
15,000 Workers Mobilized to Goksan are Suffering
Female Workers in Miroo Plain Construction Needs Hygienic Band
People Run Away From Miroo Plain
Orphans Eat Only One Porridge Meal A Day
Children Are Let Out From Orphanages Because Of Food Shortage
Fertilizer Does Not Help This Year’s Harvest
“10- Year- Lasting Arduous March, Stuffy Thing”
“Don’t Work Depending On Foreign Aid”
If the Agriculture Policy Does Not Change, This Years’ Crops Will Be Doomed

Deaths by Starvation Continues in Goksan
In Goksan County, North Hwanghae Province, people are continuing to die of starvation. All of the victims suffer from common cold-like symptoms including persistent coughs and have cases of diarrhea prior to dying, but as of yet, no policies have been instated to combat the situation. Cases of chickenpox and scabies are also on the rise, but again, no preventive measures are being initiated.

Goksan County was one of the regions most severely damaged by the floods last year. Arable land, schools, hospitals, and residences sustained damages in over 20 villages (리;Ri); the region produced some of the highest human casualties from the flood. Last year, the North Korean government released news about the flood damages in Goksan County because it was one of the most heavily damaged area. However, there is speculation that the government regrets releasing this information because instead of receiving aid, they feel that they have become the laughing stalk of the international community.

Because of the severe food shortage striking prior to any significant recovery made from the flood damage, the effect on human life is growing worse each day.

15,000 Workers Mobilized to Goksan are Suffering
The 15,000 workers mobilized to Goksan County to fix the Miroo plain(미루벌) irrigation system, that was destroyed by the consecutive floods of 2006 and 2007, are currently suffering greatly because of the severe food shortage. The workers have been greatly affected by the complete lack of food rations within Goksan County.

Because there is no food or aid being distributed by the central government, most people are subsisting on little more than a handful of maize sprinkled with salt. Often, people are forced to eat grass roots mixed with chaff. Forced with exhausting labor and little food, the number of people dying is increasing. Central government members, shocked at the news of workers dying, began visiting the fields to survey the situation. Upon encountering the current conditions, government officials stared open-mouthed and speechless, shocked by the appalling conditions. Asked what they needed by the officials, the crowd responded in unison, “It would be nice to eat a meal!” Because no actions have been taken since then, the workers, who are little more than skin and bones, continue to work.

In addition to improving the food situation, strengthening the medical system is urgently needed. Those who are injured and need immediate medical treatment are literally dying because of the lack of treatment due to the fact that the hospitals are ill equipped to handle anything more than a basic examination.

One official lamented, “There are many cases of people dying because of a lack of food. At the current rate, no one will be left to work. Though the immediate remedy would be to provide more food to ward off starvation, there is very little that can be done because this is no food.”

Another official who knows the situation said, “We desperately need aid at the Miroo Plain construction sites. Any food that can be provided, even dried noodles, would be helpful. We would even permit donors to monitor on the ground. Our government is very concerned about the current situation and considers it a priority, but as of yet, because its reserves are low, there’s not much it can do unless there is humanitarian assistance from the International community

Female Workers in Miroo Plain Construction Needs Hygienic Band
There is no need to discuss any other shortage in light of the food shortage. If shoes are worn and torn, people tie them up with hay strings. If there are no hay strings, they make straw shoes. But women, especially, are going through a lot. Female workers, composing 40% of the entire work force, are asking for hygienic pads as well as food. Goh Young-hwa (28) ran away from the work place not being able to withstand the severe conditions and said, “Women are just left to bleed while working. The humiliation was unbearable. Because there were no pieces of fabric to replace the pads, we would continuously bleed while working and we felt sub human.”

People Run Away From Miroo Plain
Miroo Plain is a huge field that the late leader Kim Il-Song had special interest in. However, in 2006 and 2007, floods took away most of the land and broke the water channels. In the New Year’s Message of 2007 (2007 신년공동사설), the Party gave an order to rearrange Miroo Plain. Accordingly, the Party is working to rearrange Miroo Plain by selecting workers from the local area. Because there are severe housing and food shortages, workers often run away from Miroo Plain. However, they are usually caught before they get home and are then sent to Labor Training Centers(Nodongdalnyundae: 노동단련대). Though families are complaining, workers are reluctant to leave from Miroo Plain for fear of being caught. However, because of their malnutrition, the pace of work is very slow.

Orphans Eat Only One Porridge Meal A Day
Nationally, the situation in orphanages and nursing homes has become very desperate. In South Pyongan Province, food distribution has stopped since last February. From March, they are eating only one corn porridge meal a day. In Nampo Orphanage, 150 orphans are barely managing to eat one meal a day. Local governments ordered those orphanages to take more orphans because these days, more children are being abandoned. However, orphanages are concerned that they cannot afford to take in more orphans as they are unable to feed all their children.

Children Are Let Out From Orphanages Because Of Food Shortage

Miss Goh (48), who is working in an orphanage in South Pyongan said, “our children are eating only one meal a day and I don’t know how they will survive.” She added, “Because of the food shortage, some orphanages let children leave.” This past February, orphanages have endured children’s deaths due to the itch(scabies;옴). Some said, “Up to 27 children who could not get treatment for the itch died. The Itch is contagious and because of the absence of proper medication, we had to isolate those who had like symptoms. Later, because we could not treat them, we just let them leave because it seemed that isolating them was just killing them. “

Fertilizer Does Not Help This Year’s Harvest
This year’s harvest is in danger as the Ministry of Agriculture(농업성) did not provide fertilizers at a scheduled time to the farmers of cities and counties. An official of the Ministry of Agriculture said that “Currently, nitrogenous fertilizer produced by Heungnam Fertilizer Factory does not help this year’s farming.” To compensate, the Neighborhood Unit ordered each household to provide 10kg of manure(퇴비) to the farms of the respective region, and factories and enterprises assigned the same amount of fertilizer to each worker. Currently the commission for agriculture management (농촌경영위원회) predicts that this year’s crop will be in trouble even though farmers spread Heukbosan fertilizer(흙보산비료) onto the fields. Goh Young-gil (44) said “Though there is a mandate to submit 10kg of manure, this will not be helpful. Even if someone provides the manure, it usually contains a high percentage of normal clods. Spreading it out on the fields will not help fertilize the crops at all. The lack of production is caused by the stopgap work and not the fertilizer.”

“10- Year- Lasting Arduous March, Stuffy Thing”
Though the hardship from the food crisis has been severe, public opinion has been worse.
From high level officers to common farmers, laborers and students, the discontent against the current system has rising. Kim Sung-kan (45) at Sariwon in North Hwanghae Province said, “Why can’t we change the food condition 10 years after the Arduous March? What are government officers doing? This is so frustrating.”

“Don’t Work Depending On Foreign Aid”
One of the most frequently heard phrases in the meetings of middle level officials is “Work with your hands.” Officials stress at every meeting not to “…depend on other countries. Other countries also suffer from the food crisis. Especially this year, the food crisis has swept all over the world. So, work by yourself and with your hands. Don’t work expecting other countries to help.” An official who attended one of those meetings said “Officers guess the meaning of the words is not to believe China or South Korea .It means not to expect aids from those countries.”

Particularly in the rice-planting(모내기) season, authorities stress the need to forego hope in foreign aid emphasize the commitment to find alternative fertilizers. In every meeting, they repeat that “this year we will not receive fertilizers from South Korea and cannot import goods from the outside world. We will fight and overcome the economic blockade and every restriction by finishing the rice-plantation successfully within the season by spreading out dried grass or leaves on the rice paddies.”

If the Agriculture Policy Does Not Change, This Years’ Crops Will Be Doomed
Even though authorities emphasize that “every man should do their part to ensure a good harvest this year,” most farmers think there are still a long way to go. The Party insists that people should not expect any aid from other countries due to the worldwide food crisis and should focus on farming crops on their own soil. They also stress that all parties, military, and citizens should support farming because they are all accountable. However, it is not easy to attract active participation.

Suh Chang-Hyeok (49) at Bongchoen County in South Hwanghae Province made an impassioned speech about the current agriculture policy, “Farming is conducted in the form of collective labor and volunteers work inattentively, which is understandable because there is no reward for the work. Only a few people pay attention to the labor, vigorously working like it is their own. This year’s crop will not improve unless authorities change its agriculture policy. The elderly publicly state that grain yield was highest just before the Korean War in 1950 because the authorities distributed the rights to cultivate lands to individual farmers and 70% of the crops produced in the land were divided to the farmer who cultivated it.

After all, in order to increase the farmers’ will to produce, the domestic law should consider peoples’ selfish mind, but because it does not, production is very low. It is natural for people to be exhausted because it is hard for them to get distribution even though they work for an entire year go through all the hardships. Moreover, officers who manage the farms do not help the farming at all because they are used to report grain production falsely to the upper level authorities with the purpose of flattery and embezzlement. Originally, Chosun was an agricultural country. The problem in the agriculture industry could be solved by a wise man with firm determination, but no one has come forth. The real problem is that no one is motivated to value their fatherland and people. From the center to the margin of government, the conservative perception is prevalent to just keep their salaries and the status quo policy. It is obvious that this year’s agricultural production will be difficult.”


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