GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No.124

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


North Korea Today
124th 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.”

Orphanages and Other Child Care Facilities Desperately Need Help
The Party Officials Saying, ¡°Starvation Is Coming Soon.¡±
Increasing Missing People Causing Tension in the Party
Farm Labor Mobilization Started on April 23rd
Control over Market Activities Become Hazy Due to Worsening Food Shortages
Tuberculosis Patients Left Untreated
Because of the Shortage of Food, Curing Tuberculosis is More Difficult
Paratyphoid Breakout at Onsung
Forcibly Levied Human Excrement in North Pyongan Province
Severe Sanitation Problem Caused By Human Excrement Powder in the Air
People Annoyed by the Order, ¡°Don¡¯t Carry Things in Hand-Cart during the Day¡±
News of Incidents and Accidents
[Opinion] We Have To Get Ready Before the Cyclone of Famine Descends on North Korea

Orphanages and Other Child Care Facilities Desperately Need Help

A large four-story building in Sinuiju housed an orphanage that was run with help from someone in China. The help recently stopped but the number of children increased, making the operation tough to carry on. They asked for help to China but there hasn’t been a response yet. One official of the orphanage implied the difficulty of obtaining donations, saying, “Although we would like to ask for help to other countries, it’s a difficult matter of matching up donor requirements with the necessities of the recipients. There are cases when donations don’t come through because wires become crossed in such fashion.”

One mid-level official in South Pyongan Province went further, “To make it possible to receive aid, we have to provide documents that specify how many orphanages and children we have. But our government will not let us reveal these numbers. That means that we can’t ask for help to outside agencies. Since the upper level considers such information as some big national secret, there is nothing that mid-level bureaucrats like me can do. I understand that there are many places that would give us support if we only tell them what the health, growth, and nutrition conditions are for the children. But since such information is considered as a loss of face for the People’s Republic, the central authorities have placed a strict non-disclosure order. There are a lot of children who are dying of disease because they can’t eat or wear decent clothing. Infants, as well as children whose parents have divorced, have nowhere to go. The country should care for these children but the country doesn’t have the ability to do so. Then it should at least allow conditions in which they can get help. I am going out of my mind. There are people in all walks of life who are in danger and I wonder if the government will allow everyone to just perish. I just want to grab anyone and ask. Perhaps I am the crazy one, worrying about all these people when everyone is only worried about their own survival.”

The Party Officials Saying, “Starvation Is Coming Soon”

The food crisis seems endless. One official from the Party said, “The severity of food shortages differs among regions, but in this situation where we can’t see the end of the crisis, it does not matter which city is better or worse.” Hamheung, Sinuiju and other regions that had experienced the most serious starvation during the Arduous March (고난의 행군) seem to cope better with starvation than other regions. At the time of the Arduous March, there were many people who starved to death eating potatoes. But, because people got used to being starving, they will not starve to death like in those times. But, the food situation is as bad as in those times. It is worrying that this time houses do not even have potatoes. One Party official said, “Starvation is sure to come soon even though it depends on regions.” Another official said that the Party does not have any measures to take care of locals and only care about the central areas. In major cities, food has been distributed to universities, customs, import and export business, police, and intelligence agencies. However, the others do not even hear about food distribution these days. Therefore, high officials in the Party are noting that unless there is food aid from abroad, starvation is sure to come within days.

One official in Pyongyang said, “Food and wages should be given to people for their survival, but the thing is that there are not many factories operating. Because people don’t get food and wages, they are like unemployed people. It is natural the homeless are increasing. The Party even won’t admit that the number of the homeless is increasing. Thus, if outsiders come and ask for statistics on homeless people for the purpose of food support, we have nothing to say. We, officials, know well what it is to serve our people, but because of the ideology and our own survival, we cannot do anything but following the Party’s order.”

Increasing Missing People Causing Tension in the Party

Through South Pyongan, South Hwanghae, South Hamgyong, Kangwon regions, the number of people who are estranged from their home is increasing. Every region is complaining saying it can’t stop people from leaving home for survival, when responding to the questioning from the Party about missing people. Some judges in those regions are complaining that it is better to step down from their positions rather than being pressed hard on preventing people from leaving their homes.

Most of all, the tension is remarkable in the national border area. As of the end of April, investigation has been targeting people, who do not go back home after visiting or staying in their relatives in the area. Once they are identified they are pressed to go back to their homes. The police in each region are persuading those non-residents to go back home as soon as possible. Some police officers are even insisting that they leave their districts as quickly as possible by going back home or even leaving for China. Actually, one police officer is pressing those non-residents to leave his district as soon as possible saying that if they leave for China, they will not be under his charge, but if not, he himself is responsible for their residency and he does not want to be bothered by them.

Farm Labor Mobilization Started on April 23rd

An order to mobilize general farm labor groups was issued for this spring's farming. Students of every city and county, under the leadership of Monaegi[1] direction groups (모내기지휘 그루빠) of the provincial People's Assembly, have been mobilized for farm support. The current farm labor mobilization was originally scheduled from April 23 to May 23. Students ranging from 4-6 grades of middle school to vocation school and colleges are taking a letter of certification of "suspension of food rations" and going to nearby collective farms to provide labor. Workers and members of Women's Union from every province have also been mobilized since May 5th. As the national mobilization has been started, North Hamgyung Provincial Party's Organization and Guidance Department recently issued an order to closely monitor the floating population; every household should be participated in mobilization. Only exceptions of this farm mobilization order are as follows: workers and managers of the construction industry who are currently involved in building factories, enterprises, municipal shock troop brigade(시돌격대) and removing shacks and houses near railroads.

Control over Market Activities Become Hazy Due to Worsening Food Shortages

In the wake of the March 4th collective protest against the age restrictions on market activities, authorities issued a statement, considered by many people an empty threat, that there will be no negotiation or pardon regarding any anti-social activities in the future. Yet, the control over market activities in fact has become hazy these days. Authorities, who tightened its monitoring of market activities as if they were going to remove all the markets across the country, currently appear to fall back due to the worsening food shortages. Food rations had stopped a while ago and households are even running out of emergency food. Under such circumstances, markets are the only way for ordinary people to sustain their lives. Authorities seem to apprehend that if they continue to ban market activities, the nation might face the risk of mass starvation; for this reason, authorities could not impose their original plan to tighten the control over market activities.

Tuberculosis Patients Left Untreated

The hospitalized patients of the department of surgery in each hospital are generally tuberculosis patients. Every day the patients go to hospital, but they are actually left untreated because the medical service center does not have any medication. Even though there are sanitariums for tuberculosis, the patients and their families avoid the facilities because they believe that if patients go to the sanitariums, they will die there. It is true that there are many people who have died in the nursing homes. North Pyongan Province also has tuberculosis sanitariums, but they have not been operating properly. Because most patients do not have money or any power because they are ordinary residents, they cannot buy medicine or receive any treatment at an isolation ward for tuberculosis. So they are usually stay home. So, whenever the patients cough, in many cases their families can get infected. Some people who have the initial symptom of tuberculosis do not know what they have but they keep coughing and trading in the market to maintain their living. Han Yong-gab (63), a doctor of North Hwanghae, stated, “Because tuberculosis is a product of hunger and poverty, it is not strange to see a drastic increase in the number of patients in the time of the shortage of food like these days. Officials or rich people do not worry about the disease because they consume appropriate food and can be cured with reserved medicines for officials in the hospital. Only ordinary people have problems. We may not have this trouble and most people may receive the medical service if we discontinue the free treatment system and follow the paid-in treatment system. In my hospital, even a staff’s family need to pay a disposable syringe of 5ml for 250 won, a 1mg of Russian made dexamethasone injection ampule for 1,000 won, and 20ml of lidocane (a kind of anesthetic), a narcotic, for 3,000 won. The cost of tuberculosis medicine for 3 months is 82,500 won and for 6 months is 165,000 won. Buying this medicine is a just dream for people who cannot even make 1,000 won a day to buy 1 kg of corn.”

Lim Sang-hak (49), a tuberculosis specialist at South Pyongan Province, stated that itches caused by poisonous trees or sometimes other infections broke out, but they are nothing to tuberculosis. He explained the difficulty of treating tuberculosis in North Korea, “The capital and every province have tuberculosis hospitals where doctors diagnose this disease and provide prescriptions and medicines for it. According to the symptom of the disease, the hospitals regularize that the patients are isolated and treated for 3 months and stay up to for 6 months if they are not recovered. The medicine consists of 5 components: rifampicin, isoniazid, ethambutol, pyrazinamide, and multi-vitamins which are difficult to obtain. The cost of one set for 3 months is 1,200 won. Although it is only 1,200 won, ordinary people cannot even imagine buying it. Rich people try to get this medicine by paying extra money and one set which used be 20,000 on the black market increased up to 4-50,000 won now because the number of highly increasing tuberculosis patients, the demand for the medicine also increased, and the UN medicine is not brought in regularly.”

Because of the Shortage of Food, Curing Tuberculosis is More Difficult

Lee Cheol-ho (43), a doctor of South Hamgyung Province, stated, “Taking medication as well as nutritious food is a fundamental step to cure tuberculosis, so having food is very important; it is not possible to eradicate this disease because we do not have food or cannot run an isolation ward. A while ago, a woman of my Neighborhood Unit was sick with tuberculosis for a year and she coughed up blood and passed away a week ago. We diagnosed her disease as tuberculosis, but she could not take any medicine or have even food. We were sorry and uneasy that she was all skin and bones. Because she was a friend of my wife, I gave her medicine. Although regularly taking medication is important, having food is more important, but it is impossible in this situation. I felt really bad for her death.” He continued that he did not know the exact number of increasing tuberculosis patients, but he was sure that the number was definitely increasing because of the shortage of food.

He continued his statement, “The number of registered patients in tuberculosis hospitals of each province is much larger than the Health Department officially counted the number. I don’t know the exact number, but the number of patients will be more than tens of thousands when I imagine that each province has about a couple of thousand registered patients and the numbers of unregistered patients. Some of my colleagues said that they were told that the number of patients is about 20-30 thousands. According to a colleague of a tuberculosis ward, the number of patients has remarkably increased when there is not enough food in North Korea. Thanks to national concerns and measures, each province has tuberculosis prevention hospitals and sanitariums. But they have not worked their designed duties because they do not have sufficient food and medicine. To eradicate tuberculosis, it is necessary to equip Roentgen rays and to secure medicine. And first of all, we must have food.”

Paratyphoid Breakout at Onsung

An epidemic, paratyphoid broke out and is prevalent throughout Changpyong-gu, Onsung County, North Hamgyong Province. Dozens of Changpyong residents were infected with this epidemic. Because there are a lot of people with malnutrition, they worry a lot about the possibility of the infection of this disease; however the Health Department has not taken any measure. In addition to no sufficient medicine, the biggest problem of this disease is that the facilities and equipment of military hospitals are not prepared for the infection

Forcibly Levied Human Excrement in North Pyongan Province

In North Pyongan Province human excrement was forcibly levied on each Neighbor Unit, 200kg per household. People could not hide their embarrassment about the new burden. Even considering the crisis of fertilizer shortages, it is almost impossible to gain such an amount of human manure. In addition to the currently hard work of constructing the South Sinuiju road, house wives have to take the responsibility with no other choice. Jeong Hae-sun (42)’s sneering joke made people laugh loudly in a meeting of Democratic Women’s Union at Jungju County in North Pyongan Province; “Even a person who eats 150g per a meal and 450g everyday could have at best a total 164kg per year. How can the person make 200kg of dung out of 164kg of food?” Ms. Jeong said she is really helpless to calculate such an idiot count. Other women worry a lot about how they could make 200kg of human manure.

Severe Sanitation Problem Caused By Human Excrement Powder in the Air

The stink smell spread out the entire place in North Pyongan Province from May, which is caused by human excrement being dried on the road. People often mistakenly put their foot into the excrement drying road during walks at night. Around the end of human excrement drying-up season, parasitic infections have been prevalent because of various air-borne parasite eggs. Especially children running and playing in side streets are susceptible to parasite infection. It is hard to treat patients because of lack of medicine. In spring, doctors said the most necessary thing is parasiticide such as albendazole, albendazole, and piperazine. Regardless of urban and rural, it is hard to find people who were not exposed to human excrement powder in the air.

Doctors in the Health and Epidemic Prevention Station(위생방역소 sanitation center for prevention of infectious disease) said human excrement causes various parasitic diseases such as hookworm and round worm diseases. Unfortunately they have no authority not to make human manure. Provision of santonin has been discontinued for several years because of medicine shortages, which used to be distributed every spring and fall by the government until a few years ago. Dr. Jang Hyang-sun is (63) worried that the death toll would increase once parasitic diseases are prevalent under severe starvation. She felt heartbroken at the fact that there is no way to save people as a result of lack of medicine and food.

However, residents do not recognize the seriousness of parasitic diseases. People are in an awkward position. They have to deliver the human excrement by their hands since they cannot resist the Party’s direction to fulfill the requirement of excrement amount by themselves.

People Annoyed by the Order, “Don’t Carry Things in Hand-Cart during the Day”

Last April 26th, residents in Sinuiju who were told not to carry things in hand-carts or on bicycle during a general residents’ meeting think the order is absurd. During the meeting which was held under the theme, “Let’s establish strict socialistic life style in Sinuiju, one of the agendas is prohibiting hand carts and bicycles during the day. The authorities said, “The population is dense and traffic is so heavy in downtown. People who carry hand carts and ride bicycles make things worse in addition to passengers who carry merchandise in their bags. The solution will be that students commute to schools on foot instead of riding bicycles and those who do business hang out only after the sun goes down. If those businessmen hang around during the day, we will confiscate their merchandise. It applies to those who come into downtown from the provinces. Seo Soon-keum (36) said, “We, people in Neighborhood Unit, were appalled by this measure. There are always meetings which bully residents, and not provide solutions to make residents survive. However, we cannot but keep silent. Silence is the best way. If we object, nobody knows what kind of bad things happen to us.”

News of Incidents and Accidents

Last April 11th, a fire broke out on a fishing ship from Hamhung at Wonsan harbor in Kangwon province. The fire occurred while fueling diesel oil, but the cause is not yet known. The fire killed 3 crew members and injured 4 seriously.

On April 14th, a fire broke out on a thrashing floor of the first unit(1) of Ryonggye-ri at Saebyul County in North Hamgyung Province. The fire burned 28 ton of ears of corn, 1.5 ton of rice shoots and vinyl films. The lost corn was the reserved food for food rationing to farmers and other workers mobilized for farming this spring. The fire also destroyed the farming equipment that had been collected from here and there. The emergent help request was neglected by the County Party. On the contrary, the party reprimanded and required them to resolve the case by themselves.

On April 16th, a forest fire occurred on the hill at the back of the livestock breeding farm at Wonsan division in Hoeryung city, North Hamgyong Province while cultivating small farm patches. 4 people were dead and 2 burned. The Party began the investigation about the fire break.
Two women in their 40s scuffed each other in order to board a passenger train first at Sunchun station in North Pyongan Province. They fell from the platform and could not get out of the railroad while the train left the station. After the train left, one woman shed blood from her head and the other one became unconscious and was immediately sent to hospital.

Even in that situation, the woman with the bloody head tried to find her bag filled with corn. But the corn bag was gone. Those kinds of accidents happen frequently because trains often leave even when passengers are not fully boarded. The trains are already full while people with bags on their head try to board on the train so the accidents are almost expected. It is not uncommon to see people cry, dog on others or thrust their finger to other people’s face with grasping their bags after trains leave. Even for the frequent accidents, the Party has not found the solution yet

[Opinion] We Have To Get Ready Before the Cyclone of Famine Descends on North Korea

A powerful cyclone called Nargis struck Myanmar and killed more than 80,000 people and counting. In response to this disaster, the international community has come together to provide needed aid and supplies to the affected regions as soon as possible.

Such international cooperation in the face of a natural disaster indicates the maturing collective consciousness of the global community. Especially, when you consider how that the world condemned Myanmar’s crackdown on democracy activists a few months ago, the current outpouring of aid speaks well to the tradition of humanitarian aid as something that’s provided when needed by both governments and other organizations. In fact, both criticism of the Myanmar government over its human rights abuses and provision of humanitarian aid in the face of such a disaster rise out of the humanity’s basic conscience on behalf of freedom and equality to everyone in the world.

Looking at Myanmar’s situation reminds us how important quick reactions to a humanitarian crisis are. If the extent of the damages are quickly reported and requests for help made, then the speed of aid and assistance will come more rapidly, stabilizing the situation that much quicker. In this light, what about North Korea today? Even North Korean officials understand that they have to let the world know the basics of the situation if they want help. For example, opening records on the malnutrition and growth stunting of young children in orphanages is a basic requirement to receiving help from the outside. This is not something that will shame the nation. In fact, the real shame is allowing children to go hungry and suffer from malnutrition and bad health by trying to hide the situation.

The North Korean government, which is trying its best to cover up the extent of the seriousness of the food shortage crisis to save the face and survival of the regime, must come clean as soon as possible. The North Korean government must recognize the depth of the food crisis and suffering of the people and develop possible solutions so that it doesn’t become another mass famine. If the North Korean government cannot resolve the situation by itself, then it must ask for help to the international community. What meaning is there to the maintenance of the regime of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea if it’s a government without the people?

On the other hand, the South Korean government’s policy of not providing aid until asked by North Korea is also against the basic principle of humanitarian aid. Even before the Myanmar government asked for help, the international humanitarian community was preparing to go in to help. In fact, we were looking at various alternatives to go in and help despite the Myanmar government was being uncooperative with the granting of visas and other matters. The North Korean food crisis has the potential to kill more than the Myanmar cyclone disaster. It calls for quick evaluation of the facts on the ground and urgent aid to prevent a massive famine.

The South Korean people are currently concerned over the beef import policies of the government. At the same time, we hope that the South Korean people will take a moment to pay heed to the lives who are suffering from hunger just across the border. While it’s important to be concerned about the wrong things to eat, it is also important to listen to the cries of those who have nothing to eat. We must be concerned that a cyclone of famine, even more powerful than Nargis that struck Myanmar, is slowly closing in on North Korea.


[1] Monaegi(모내기;transplanting rice seedlings)




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