GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 138

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

North Korea Today 138th 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.”

The Price for Rice Tops 4,000 won across South and North Hwanghae Province
Table 1. Grain Price Fluctuation at Sariwon from Feb. – May 30, 2008
Residents of Hamheung City Dying from Symptoms of Poisonous Grass Porridge
Four Kkotjebis Found Dead after Eating Decayed Food
South Hwanghae Province: Growing Numbers of People Starving to Death and the End of Trading Home Appliances for Food
Kkotjebi Runaways in Groups
Military Families Split as Army Provisions are in Short Supply.
South Hwanghae Province’s Day Care Centers Are Suspended Due to Food Shortages
People Who Seek Food Easily Get Border Pass
College Faculties at Sinuiju City Receive Limited Food
Directive To Not Tutor Privately


The Price for Rice Tops 4,000 won across South and North Hwanghae Province
While the price of rice stayed close to 3,000 won during much of May, it finally topped 4,000 won by the end of the month. On May 30, the price of rice across South Hwanghae province rose to 4,500 won. In North Hwanghae Province, which has been particularly hard hit by the food shortage, the price of rice 4,200 won. Corn, however, did not show much difference in price between South and North Hwanghae provinces, with its price hovering around 1,950-2,000 won.

Table 1. Grain Price Fluctuation at Sariwon from Feb. – May 30, 2008
(Units: North Korean Won/Kg)
* one month salary of workers in North Korea is 3,000 won


* one month salary of workers in North Korea is 3,000 won

Residents of Hamheung City Dying from Symptoms of Poisonous Grass Porridge
In addition to many deaths attributed to grass porridge in the countryside of North Hwanghae province, it has been reported that an increasing number of residents in Hamheung city of South Hamkyong province are dying from the same cause. These residents have been taking so-called “grass porridge(풀죽)” for a long time to escape extreme hunger and ended up going through serious, painful symtoms like indigestion and a swelling of the body. A growing number of people are just waiting for death as they are left home without getting any proper treatment for their illness. Park Cheon-ho, a 43- year-old man, has come close to death. Neighbors said he would soon die from so-called “poisonous grass porridge symtoms” within a week. Having had only grass soup for so long, people end up dying from painful symtoms, unable to afford to any treatment.

Four Kkotjebis Found Dead after Eating Decayed Food
At Gimcheck Steel Mill’s boiler room on May 29, four Kkotjebis (homeless children) were found dead from food poison. One witness reports that he had seen some kids voraciously eating smelly rotten food in the area a few days earlier. The witnessed identified the four dead children as those same kids. He added that their hunger must have been extreme, driving them to eat decayed food like hogs. It seems that the four dead must have suffered a great deal, as their bodies were found tangled up with one another.

South Hwanghae Province: Growing Numbers of People Starving to Death and the End of Trading Home Appliances for Food
An increasing number of deaths due to starvation are occurring in the counties of South Hwanghae Province such as Yeonahn, Ahnahk, Baecheon, Ryongyeon, Ongjin and Jangyeon. The price of rice has gone up to 4,500 won, while the price of corn has remained around 2,000 won. With higher food prices, most residents of the affected counties are selling their home appliances. Expensive items like VCRs, refrigerators, and televisions are being sold at giveaway prices by hungry residents. Even at these prices, residents are concerned that their appliances still will not sell, as buyers for these goods have become scarce. Jung Young-ae frowned in despair and said she put out her VCR and sewing maschine for just 10,000 won. Even though their original prices were 30.000 and 70,000 won each, nobody seems to be interested in buying. She says, “I came here, hoping that I could get food for my family by selling these things; I am terribly worried to see that nobody ever shows interest in these items. The thought of having to get food drives me crazy.”

Kkotjebi Runaways in Groups

On May 28, 11 Kkotjebis ran away from the Relief Institutions out of extreme hunger. One official of the relief institute insinuated that if they stayed there, they were more likely to starve to death. The choice to run away may have been necessary for the children’s survival. Children in this relief institute get 300 grams of ground corncob a day, 100 grams for each meal, but they always suffer from hunger. Moreover, highly infectious scabies broke out on May 27. The disease has spread rapidly since the end of May. More and more Kkotjebis are appearing around Chungjin in North Hamkyong province, beyond the areas of South Pyongan and South Hamkyong Province.

Military Families Split as Army Provisions are in Short Supply
The 4th corps headquarters of Hwanghae Province fell far short in military food supplies this year due to overall food shortages. The Support Bureau requested that the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces address the problem of military food shortages. All soldiers with children under 12 have been ordered to send away their wives and children to their or their wives’parents and live apart until November when they can get their family back upon receiving rations. This is the first time this kind of order has been given since the massive famine of the mid 1990's.

South Hwanghae Province’s Day Care Centers Are Suspended Due to Food Shortages
Preschools and day care centers are not operated properly in South Hwanghae Province, which is allegedly suffering the severest food shortage. Haeju city and its nearby counties have closed preschools and daycare centers. Most of the daycare centers have been closed, and a few of the preschools in the coastal areas of Haeju City are open only during the day and send children back home at lunch time. Until last February these preschools could afford to provide soup for lunch to the kids who brought lunch; they are now unable to supply even the lunch portion of soup. Most parents who cannot afford to prepare lunch for their children often do not send them to preschools. Officials of education centers visit each house and ask parents to send children to preschools. Parents have preffered to rear their children at home for two years and then send them back to the preschool.

Hwang Kum-hee, a 32-year-old woman, says “We are going to send our kids to the preschool one or two years later than others since this will keep my children from looking small and being pushed around by bigger kids from well-off families.” Jung Soon-young, a 34-year-old preschool teacher reports that it has become commonplace for most parents to send their kids to preschools 1-2 year later in many of the areas like Sinuiju, Nampo, and Chungjin City.

People Who Seek Food Easily Get Border Pass
As the food disaster worsens, people in all parts of the country are wandering in search of food. Residents of South Hwanghae province and North and South Pyongan provinces are traveling as far away as the border with China. The Party gives priority to those who are seeking food when issuing border passes, as the number of passes is limited. Worries about defection made the Party reluctant to issue passes to the national border areas in earlier times. Some residents of South Hwanghae province even go as far as North Hamkyong province to visit distant relatives living there.

Kim Du-mak, age 64, said, “it became easier to see them as our economy worsened. If we tell them we can get some food there, they allow us to pass. However, it is not different in terms of food shortage there compared to here. Some who can’t get food there even think of running for China, but they can’t because of their families at home.”

College Faculties at Sinuiju City Receive Limited Food
Last May, universities in Sinuiju provided food to their faculty members. The faculty members have now been given 39kgs of corn, an amount not intended for their family members. Faculty members are relieved by this provision because the current market price of corn is 2,000 won per kilogram. People are envious of those who got food rations. Kim Hey-ok, age 45, says, “as long as food is provided appropriately, and society is equal, our country is a great place to live. But it seems that our society is getting more and more unequal.” She added that she had not even dreamt of corn, just corn powder would be enough for her. In some cases, people prefer corn bread powder as a food alternative.

Directive To Not Tutor Privately
The Party ordered an end to private tutoring. High officials or wealthy people usually hire private tutors for their children’s education. But the Party keeps expressing opposition to this practice as part of a pretense of equal education. The private tutor position is highly valued, especially during times of economic distress. Tutors usually make 20,000 won per month teaching foreign languages, musical instruments, or computer skills. The Party criticizes this as an egoistic idea, one that contradicts communism. Han Keum-hwa, age 27, is a private tutor in Pyongyang. He says, “Even without private tutors, it is always the same. Only wealthy and powerful families send their children to universities. It is not because of private tutors that education became unequal. They don’t control the corrupt university admission process. Cracking down on private tutoring is not a solution to this unequal education tradition which has continued for over 20 years.”


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