GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 137

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

North Korea Today 137th Edition June 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 from Starvation Increasing Throughout North Hwanghae Province
Fear Is Spreading Because Of an Unidentified Communicable Disease
Frustration on Diagnosing Hand-Foot-Mouth Disease or Bird Flu
The Majority of Pyongyang Textile Factory Workers Can’t Even Bring Rice Porridge for Lunch
Corn Plants Frozen To Death Because Of Unseasonably Cold Weather at Euiju County in North Pyongan Province
The Chief of Democratic Women’s Union in Shingye County Appealed, “Lets’ Help Starving People Individually”
Lack of Fertilizer Wreaking Havoc on Farming
Increasing Complaint for “the Poor Get Poorer and the Rich Get Richer”
Mobilized Workers Declare Unfair: “the Poor Get Poorer and the Rich Get Richer”
Improve People’s Lives Rather Than Producing Missiles
Deaths from Starvation Increasing Throughout North Hwanghae Province
Currently in South Hwanghae Province as well as North Hwanghae Province, the number of people who are dying due to starvation is on the increasing throughout the regions. Cities in North Hwanghae Province like Sariwon, which was the first to report cases of starvation, are no longer alone, and in regions such as Bongsan County, Goksan County, Shingye County, and Hwangju County, instances of starvation are being reported. Furthermore, in regions like Shingye County, and Hwangju County, there is news that there are now cases of people dying from grass poisoning in addition to starvation. The citizens of these areas have been subsisting on grass porridge because of the lack of rations, but because they have not been properly preparing the grass for consumption, they are falling victim to grass poisoning. On farms in North Hwanghae Province, it is understood that on average, 3-4 people are dying daily. Because of this, wails and exhortations can be heard coming from different villages.

Fear Is Spreading Because Of an Unidentified Communicable Disease
An unidentified disease is currently spreading in the natioanl border regions, and this has the health authority (보건당국) extremely anxious. On May 22nd in Musan, North Hamkyong Province, people began to suffer and collapse from the unidentified disease, which caused pulmonary tuberculosis, scabies(옴병), and high temperature. This disease, which has been going by the name of high fever ('열병'), is spreading among children under the age of six, and especially quickly among children living in the day care centers(탁아소). Because of this disease, children are unable to swallow even a grain of food and can only drink water. Hospital staffs say children area still conscious, but their pulse is very faint. The mortality rate for children under two years of age who contract this disease is virtually 100%. Residents of Musan are filled with terror and are saying that "the Arduous March has finally reappeared and the same situation is happening once again." During the Arduous March, people were helpless because of long periods of no food and different diseases, and many people died.

Frustration on Diagnosing Hand-Foot-Mouth Disease or Bird Flu
Undiagnosed symptoms have spread through out the border area and the government is yet to determine whether the disease is the bird-flu. A doctor in Musan County hospital admitted by saying, “It is the Bird-Flu, it’s spreading among the children at this stage not to adults yet. The government is trying to seek the cause for the disease”.

On the April 27, a doctor in a hospital in the city of Hoeryung stated that, ‘it’s true that the Bird-Flu is spreading. Patients’ symptoms are such as over 38℃ of high fever, losing appetite and coughs with dried throat and 5-6 children are dying per day. These symptoms are common among children, the doctors are saying, ”Five in every ten are dying.” Another doctor is saying that, ‘I think the Bird- Flu accompanying with the SARS, we are just feeding Gimchi(김치) rather than any other medicine.

Other opinions are expressed on these symptoms that this is the Hand-Foot-Mouth Disease(HFMD;수족구병) from China. The health authority in Sinuiju has put out the sign saying” We shall put out the HFMD by enhancing the quarantine”. After the announcement that on the May 20, And a doctor in Sinuiju say that,’ I would need to diagnose myself, but I think this is the foot and mouth disease. The diseases may have spread among the homeless (Kkotjebis) through North Hamgyung Province, since I’ve heard the diseases have spread from Beijing, Jangchung, Yanji and Longjing. Usual symptoms are with ulcers and high fever. This is easily contagious among children and the North Korean government is in another determination.

The Majority of Pyongyang Textile Factory Workers Can’t Even Bring Rice Porridge for Lunch
The uneven food distribution in Pyongyang City has brought a food shortage to some areas. It was confirmed that the food distribution, which had been discontinued temporarily and resumed in May in the level of about 70% of the normal quantity, but even that had not been given to all households. Some families have not received food since March when the food distribution was stopped. Poor families, who have been excluded from the food distribution, barely live on one or two rice porridge a day, similar situation as in the farms. While rural area people could look for some edible grass, these factory workers have to report to work and their food situation is as dire as the farmers.

For example, women workers of Pyongyang Textile Factory (평양방직공장) in Sunkyo District (선교구역) report to work but unable to any work because they haven’t eaten. They either sit or lie down on the worktable, just waiting for their shift to end, then go home. Majority workers bring porridge for lunch but as the month of May progresses, the number of workers that could not even bring porridge has increased.

Corn Plants Frozen To Death Because Of Unseasonably Cold Weather at Euiju County in North Pyongan Province
As the unseasonably low temperature and frost continued to the end of May, corn plants are frozen to death in rural villages such as Daehwa-ri (대화리), Sujin-ri (수진리) and Ryongun-ri (룡운리) at Euiju County (의주군) in North Pyongan Province. After corn plants were frozen and lost, many farms opt to sow fall vegetables instead of corn because they think replanted corn would have poor change of sprouting. The damage by late frost, first in North Hamkyong Province and now in North Pyongan Province, Makes farmers despair, thinking that this year’s harvest is already ruined.

The Chief of Democratic Women’s Union in Shingye County Appealed, “Lets’ Help Starving People Individually”

The chief of Democratic Women’s Union (DWU) at the town office in Shingye County appealed to the union members to donate 50g of rice each in order to help starving people individually as veterans, survivors of fallen soldiers and old soldiers are starving to death and the number of households on the verge of death is increasing. The chief of DWU played an exemplary role such as delivering 2kg of rice to some households. Even though the union members admire the chief’s first move, they cannot readily follow her move. They state how on earth can they help other people even when they haven’t seen corn, let alone rice, a long time and are now surviving on watery porridge. Some women took a pessimistic view, saying what an individual can do in the situation where the government has no capability to relieve people from poverty. There are more people that do not respond to the appeal of the chief of DWU. On the other hand, some women revealed cautious intension to join the chief’s move, saying that some lives could be saved with the help of people who can afford, even in small amount.

Lack of Fertilizer Wreaking Havoc on Farming
These days, farmers’ faces are darkened by the shadow of hopelessness. Without exception, every farmer says this year’s crop has been ruined. A manager of a farm collective in South Hwanghae Province lamented despondently, “We’re told that the whole nation should be mobilized to provide responsible work force on the farms. It is the only way to resolve problems in food crisis. However, it is all talk. There is no plan for action. Without any responsible action plan, unconditional farm work is ordered. These days, nothing is achieved successfully. What have we got? Farm workers are starving to death. Seeds are improperly maintained. No fertilizer is seen anywhere nearby.”

A farm worker, Kang Nam-sik (54) claims in anger, “The first thing wreaking havoc on the crop is fertilizer. It has been reported that since the dawn of this year, the whole city successfully produced 100% of the target of human excrement as fertilizer. However, reality is that it satisfies less than 40% of all the requirements. Consequently, every individual has been ordered to prepare 10 kgs of dried human excrement. Considering cloudy days and rainy days, it is not clear when the target can be met. What is really troubling the farmers are this; a farmer can replace 10 kgs of dried human excrement with 1 kg of urea fertilizer. Urea fertilizer can be purchased with cash. However, where can the farmer find cash to purchase urea fertilizer when he cannot afford even a meal a day? Those with money can purchase imports from China. We cannot afford it. Consequently it amounts to the state collecting money from us.”

Increasing Complaint for “the Poor Get Poorer and the Rich Get Richer”
In such tough times as these, those wealthy people are not looked upon with a tender heart. As the standard of living of the customs officials at the City of Manpo, Jagang Province goes up, so does the level of complaints from the ordinary citizens toward officials. Ryu Ja-ok (52) at Segum-dong said, “All the customs officials never worry about food, can send their children to good schools for good education. They never have any problem in getting positions for their children upon graduation. They seem to compete with each other to make their houses more convenient and decorate their houses luxuriously.” As Ryu says, the customs officials frequently take bribes for looking the other way on an excess of imports and the contraband items. They also accept bribes for easy passing of the merchandise inspection, sanitation inspection and quality inspection in addition to reducing tax collection. Even though occasionally they get caught and punished, the overall bribery scheme gets more secretive and harder to root out. That is because everyone believes they have to survive no matter what.

The citizens of Manpo understand the situation. However, as they starve and worry a lot about each meal, the high ranking officials are getting wealthier, and it really angers them. The voice of complaint is rising high. According to Ryu, whenever and wherever people gather, they say, “The ocean can float the boat, but angry sea can sink the boat too. If the government loses people’s goodwill, there could be no good results in future.” Ryu added that the high ranking officials should show some prudence.

Mobilized Workers Declare Unfair: “the Poor Get Poorer and the Rich Get Richer”
On May 26, for the road construction from Maleum 1-dong, Sunam District, Chungjin City, North Hamkyong Province, city authorities assigned a task for each household to transport a sandbag weighing 500 kg. Workers of Dong offices (동사무소) and the heads of neighborhood units (인민반) started waking up the residents from 4:30 AM in the morning by means of loud speakers. The residents complained saying, “Where in the world is there a country that bind their people with military rules and harass them? If one wants to be excused, one had to pay 10,000 won penalty. Those without money normally cannot afford meals and are physically feeble. These poor and feeble people must work while those with money are exempt from physical labor, and that’s so unfair.”

Improve People’s Lives Rather Than Producing Missiles

Residents cry that they are sick and tired of numerous taxes. There is a policy that requires each member of every organization, public enterprise, farm, school and women’s association to submit 5 kg of scrap iron. The problem is that not everyone can find 5 kg of scrap iron and consequently they substitute it with cash payment. This kind of cash payment adds up to anywhere between a few thousand won and tens of thousand won. This amount can exceed a month’s wage of a worker. Many residents wonder with suspicions where these large sums of money would end up. Some residents whisper, “The state ought to use the money to improve lives of people rather than on producing nuclear weapons or missiles. That will reduce the burdens of people tremendously.”

Toward this kind of attitude, a high ranking party official made a comment, “Central party officials believe that ignorant people do not realize that people cannot exist without the State. The gap between central party officials and the ordinary people is enormous.” A resident pointed out that those who can afford food and other things do not pay attention to other poor people. Some of these affluent people incorrectly believe that stubborn diplomatic behaviors would resolve all the problems. These kinds of people do only care about their own security and welfare, regardless of what happens to other poor people. Consequently those poor people must endure the most miserable conditions of living.

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