North Korea Today No. 134

Research Institute for North Korean Society

North Korea Today 134th 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 in North Pyongan Province Prompt Emergency Food Rations
Average of 7-10 Deaths by Starvation Each Day in Ongjin and Ryongyon County, South Hwanghae Province
Despite Efforts to Restrain Grain Prices, Prices Continue to Rise
Did You Build Nursing Homes To Help Us Die More Quickly?
To Parents, "Have Your Children Participate in School Activities Well"
Following a couple, Woo Young-il Woo and Kim Young-ok, Taking Care of 111 Orphans
"How Can I Raise Orphans? I Cannot Live Even by Myself."
Frequent Topics of Lecture for National Border Areas
Already Provided Enough Culture, so There will be Strict Punishment If Violate Rules
Grandfather Han's story: "Perhaps I Didn't Build Up Enough Good Deeds In My Previous Lifetime?
[Opinion] Become a Mother's Party to the People

Deaths by Starvation in North Pyongan Province Prompt Emergency Food Rations
All throughout farming regions in North Pyongan Province, local governments are in a state of emergency as deaths have been reported in Ryongchun-town (룡천읍) and in surrounding farms. In Ryongchun County (룡천군), emergency rations of 10 kgs of maize have been distributed to each household. The emergency rations were prompted by the need to protect workers from starvation or illness during the current farming season. Even though workers received 10 kgs of maize after a long period without food, they are still unable to focus on their work because they are busy worrying about what will happen once supplies run out again. During the high farming season, when enforcement for illegal activities is heightened, many workers go to the markets in the early morning for trading and then report to their farms later for work.

Average of 7-10 Deaths by Starvation Each Day in Ongjin and Ryongyon County, South Hwanghae Province
The food shortage is acute in Ongjin County(옹진군), Ryongyon County, and regions of South Hwanghae Province, with 7-10 deaths due to starvation each day in these areas. Most of the deaths occur in the farming regions, but the number of city residents who are dying is also on the rise as their food rations have ceased. According to one official, "In the interior regions of South Hwanghae Province, about 65% of households are subsisting entirely on porridge made with grass. If rations are not provided in June and the current conditions persist, large numbers of citizens will certainly die."

Despite Efforts to Restrain Grain Prices, Prices Continue to Rise
In many areas, the price of grains can vary a great deal over the course of the day, putting citizens on edge. On May 8th at the Pyongsung Market in South Pyongan Province, rice that was selling for 3,100 won in the morning was selling for 4,100 won by 4pm, causing a small uproar among buyers. Orders were issued to all merchants warning that if they were discovered selling rice for more than 2,800 won per kilogram, their entire stock of goods would be confiscated. However, merchants paid no heed to these orders and sold rice for as much as 3,750 won per kilogram. No matter how much the government tries to fix the prices of goods and police try to enforce these measures, the prices of goods in the marketplace remain variable. At one time, the price of rice dropped to 2,000 won and then rose to 3,000 won within the space of just one day. The continuing volatility has many people concerned. Trader Shim Ho-sung said that "no matter how much officials try to fix prices and enforcers try to enforce the prices, nobody listens any more. Obviously, merchants are only going to follow the orders if their expenses and profits match up, so why would they follow orders that would make them suffer a loss?"

Did You Build Nursing Homes To Help Us Die More Quickly?
The food situation in nursing homes is getting worse every day. Elderly residents at the nursing homes complain, "I thought that nursing homes were built to help us live longer by taking care of our basic sanitation needs. It seems like nursing homes were built to help us die more quickly." Currently, in all nursing homes, old people who are not ambulatory are housed in the same room. In one nursing home in South Pyongan Province, the smell is intolerable and the residents are infested with lice because they can't do laundry. The old people there are in quiet desperation. "It feels like we are all waiting around to die as quickly as possible. How can they let us be like this?" Meal times are signaled by a bell. It tells the residents to come and get their porridge. Since most of the residents don't have good teeth, the nursing homes prefer to give them porridge for their one or two meals a day. The buildings and equipment are usually old. Even the best nursing homes lack any bath facilities, providing only a place to wash one's face and do simple hand laundry. People say that those who suffer the most during a food crisis are the elderly, children, handicapped, and the Kkotjebi's (homeless).

To Parents, “Have Your Children Participate in School Activities Well”
In May, the nationwide lectures for students’ parents continued. The lectures encourage students to go to school regularly and to participate in activities in their school. Many parents have their children trade in a market, peddle with them together, or pick wild greens in the mountains rather than attending school. A teacher at Soonchun said, “We have similar lectures every year. They seem to concern students, but there is still worry about a shortage in the work force when mobilizing for farming in May. To prepare students for the agricultural work, they tell parents that students have to go to school. They often threaten that the parents will be held responsible and it will be reported to their work places if students are absent from school during this time.”

Following a couple, Woo Young-il Woo and Kim Young-ok, Taking Care of 111 Orphans
Each province had meetings about an admirable story, which was aired on TV at the end of April. The story concerned Woo Young-il and Kim Young-ok of Sunggan town(성간읍) in the Sunggan County of the Jagang Province. The couple has raised 111 orphans from Arduous March(고난의 행군) to present. Of the children who they raised from an early age, nine children are serving in the military. The mother Kim Young-ok became a group leader and formed organized youth groups with 50 of the children and does farming work with them. The rest of children, who are still students, remain at home. In meetings, the authorities held the couple up as an example, “Sunggan County in Jagang Province has very barren land, so it does not have enough food. The county does not equip anything properly, whether it is the necessities of life or students’ school supplies, that is to say, they do not receive any benefit from the nation. To raise one child, it takes many thousands efforts, and yet this couple has been raising over 100 children with their own means and methods. Let’s imagine how hard and tough it is to raise these children when it is difficult just to maintain a family of three. Thanks to this couple, over 100 orphans avoided the fate of becoming Kkotjebi (homeless). Aren’t these children lucky to have a loving home in which to live and a mom and daddy taking care of them? Would there be a single Kkotjebi in Chosun if we each took care of just one or two orphans?

“How Can I Raise Orphans? I Cannot Live Even by Myself.”
Through all kinds of lectures and meetings, North Korean authorities introduce admirable stories about raising orphans during hard times and urge others to follow the examples. The authorities asked people to learn from a woman called Ki Young-ok who is raising 12 orphans in Sinuiju like Woo Young-il and his wife in the Sunggan County of the Jagang Province. After hearing these stories, residents of Sinuiju were cynical about the government’s propaganda, saying, “How can we take care of orphans when we can barely survive by ourselves?”

48-year-old Kil Young-bok at Pyongsung said, “Nationwidely, each province has exactly two households that raise orphans. There are certain regulations concerning raising these children, regulations that date back several decades. A long time ago, each household donated some money to support them, but now we cannot because we have a tough time surviving. The Central Government used to provide money, but it does not give aid anymore. Currently counties and cities provide these people with corn and rice, or they give them noodle machines to make money by themselves. It is almost impossible for ordinary people to raise orphans during this period of time when there is not enough food and people are starving to death. In any case, these people are great.”

Frequent Topics of Lecture for National Border Areas
During 2008, the Government has continuously warned residents of national border areas about using cell phones, crossing the border through the river, conducting espionage, and smuggling illegal drugs. Below are the frequently covered topics in lectures given to national border residents:

● Have a correct understanding of stopping cell phone use and ideologically train the residents.
● People crossing the border to China and those planning to cross through the river with unrealistic expectation will be sentenced to death.
● Border residents should identify and arrest those people who spread rumors and help enemies by receiving dollars, these actions being motivated by frustration with temporary difficulties.
● Employ more strong and strict legal action for people who are using ‘Ice’ (amphetamine) which can corrupt current social orders and paralyze the consciousness of the labor class because they can help enemies which organize Anti-socialism and hurt our unity. Residents must not use ‘Ice’ because it can undermine our style of socialism and create disunity due to the influence of the idea of capitalism.
● According to severity of the crime, we will punish people who live with unsound capitalism against our style of socialism, embezzle national treasure and common properties, or use them with personal purposes.
● Eliminate servile behavior to Chinese emigrants behavior which undermines human esteem in order to receive some money.

Already Provided Enough Culture, so There will be Strict Punishment If Violate Rules
The Central Party sent lecture materials for residents to national border areas such as Sinuiju in North Pyongan Province, Hyesan City in Ryanggang Province, Hoeryung in North Hamkyong Province, among others. The contents of lectures are, “Residents of national border areas have already received enough cultural instruction and lecture, so stricter punishment will be applied from now on if they violate rules. When women try to cross the border through the river and are under arrest, they will be sentenced to three years in the Labor Education Center(로동교화소) with no exceptions. When they are arrested more than twice, the sentence will be up to seven years, according to the severity.”

Grandfather Han's story: "Perhaps I Didn't Build Up Enough Good Deeds In My Previous Lifetime?
Han Jung-chul, now 78, used to work as a teacher at a college. Now he is surviving on a monthly social stipend. However, making ends meet on several thousand won a month is very difficult. He doesn't dare ask his children (three sons and one daughter) for help because they are all busy taking care of their own families. He says, "just because they are my children doesn't give me leave to go back to them repeatedly for support. They have their own families and are having a difficult time as it is making ends meet. Now that I am old, my body is ridden with illness and diseases, making it hard for me to get around. But we have to live. So we spend all our efforts and time from early spring to late fall on our little plot to produce just enough food to squeak by." As a veteran of the Korean War, Han suffered from hypothermia for which he never received treatment and also has arthritis in his knees. His wife suffers from diabetes. Therefore, it's very difficult for them to perform farming labor. They say they farm, "so that we don't die."

Every year, he did everything he could to seed just one more plant in the tiny plot that he had that could conceivably provide food. The barren nature of the land and lack of fertilizer make it even more difficult to grow anything. Lately, a prevalence of crop thieves forces him to spend much of his time living deep in the hills guarding over his plot. In spring, Han and his wife dug up roots and other wild plants to make food and sell in the markets. "We lived as much as we could and are getting ready to face our ancestors. But I don't think I can rest in peace worrying about the future of our children."

The eldest son graduated from Gimchaek University of Technology and was placed in what was supposed to be the best steel mill in North Korea. But he hasn't received a salary or any food recently since production stopped. In order to feed his two children, he stole some steel in hopes of selling it. But he got caught and received a sentence in a reeducation center for stealing and destruction of state property. The wife of the eldest son also went through a difficult time in a detention center until very recently when she was released. Their children, who are in middle school, came and lived with their grandparents for a while but left because they couldn't stand the hunger.

The Han's second son drove a car for a living. Several years ago after he visited his relatives in China, he began selling used clothing and earned a good living, enough to buy TV, refrigerator, recorder, and other various household items, including a sewing machine and a bicycle. But soon after he gained a reputation for being well-off, he lost everything to a robbery in the middle of the day. In his own words, "we became beggars overnight." To makes matters worse, he was driving a car through the treacherous roads of Machunryung Hill when it overturned. Luckily, the second son is still alive but is now paralyzed from the waist down. The family’s only saving grace is the son's wife, a resourceful and strong woman who is carrying on with the family affairs.

The third son, along with his wife, works as an elementary school teacher in Munduk County of South Pyongan Province. Needless to say, their lives are also difficult. Although they get the bare minimum food rations, they can't make more money by trading since they are teachers. Despite both parents being teachers, they can barely afford to educate their own children.

Han’s daughter married a low-level officer in the army. She was caught trading in military goods and is now serving a 5-year sentence in a reeducation camp.

Grandfather Han says, with tears glistening in his eyes, "perhaps I didn't build up enough good karma in my previous lifetime or our ancestors are buried in the wrong location, I just don't know why all my children are suffering like this." Although he is not well, he always manages to go to his ancestors' burial grounds to pray for his children's wellbeing. "Sometimes I think back to the things that I might have done wrong but I can't think of anything in which I might have caused others harm," he says. "I have lived as well as I could. I don't know how our country became like this."

He shakes his head, "I don't what our ancestors did to bring down such a fate to our country and people. We suffered under the Japanese for half a century. Then we have been separated for another half a century. How upsetting and sad! When we all risked our lives for the revolution, wasn't it so that we could all live well? The current state of Chosun is so pathetic. Is socialism to drill into our heads that we have to sacrifice everything for the Great Leader and that dying for him is a high honor, while not caring about how the people on the ground actually live and suffer? Just how many people do you still think there are who believe in the Party anymore? The socialism that I dreamt of when I was young was not this." Han then took his wrinkled hand and quietly wiped away a tear.

[Opinion] Become a Mother's Party to the People
There is news that farm workers in areas of North Pyongan Province are also starving to death, following reports of deaths due to starvation in North and South Hwanghae Provinces. As people continue to die in farm areas, there is news that authorities released rations of 10kg of corn in Yongchun County of North Pyongan Province in order to stave off wholesale disaster. In South Hwanghae Province, the collective farm managers supposedly obtained approval from the local military base to use some corn reserved for military rations to feed the students who had come out to work on the farms.

The sharing of military rations with collective farm managers is truly a welcome development. It must not have been an easy decision to allow military rations to be used to feed the students, since the situation is bad everywhere. Such largess represents a fundamental improvement in the relationship between the military and people. We hope that the students working in the farms will recover their health and safely finish their work.

As such cases illustrate, we see localities trying to resolve their dire food shortage situations in any way they can. Despite such local initiatives, food prices continue to skyrocket and the external aid situation remains uncertain. Regardless of what happens with external aid, we hope that the North Korean government tries its best to fulfill its mandate as the Mother's Party. The government, as it did last spring, must prevent the wholesale starvation of the people even if it means releasing the military food stocks again. Such actions would characterize the virtues of the Mother's Party: unending attention and care of the people.

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