GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 161

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


North Korea Today 161st Edition July 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.”


A Family of Three Dies Consecutively within One-Month Period
Serious Body Swelling Due to Grass Poisoning in Taetan County
4 Kilograms of Ryanggang Province Potato is Traded for 1 Kilogram of Corn
Marketplace, Crowded in the Agricultural Mobilization Period
Even Farms Receiving Food in Hoeryong City Complain About Food Shortage
A Good Supervisor is the One Who Gives out Potatoes


A Family of Three Dies Consecutively within One-Month Period
Shock has spread throughout the Eunyul County(은율군) after the death of the three-member family of Lee Woon-Do. Lee worked as part of a maintenance crew at the West Sea floodgate (서해갑문) in Eunyul County, South Hwanghae Province. Within a month, every member of the family died from a variety of ailments and problems stemming from the current food crisis. The Lee family’s food shortage problem was very serious because the floodgate maintenance office did not provide any ration this year. Moreover, Lee’s wife, who was suffering from diabetes, could not even afford medicine or hospital treatment. On many occasions Lee’s family had to live on one bowl of thin porridge a day. As the couple and their son struggled to survive on grass porridge they all become grossly emaciated. Lee Woon-Do’s wife died first in early June after suffering from disease and famine. Their son soon after complained of a severe stomachache and died on the way to the hospital.

Lee, who had been grieving over the loss of his wife and son, committed suicide on the twenty-seventh of June. Before hanging himself, he wrote on a wall, “Socialism is not allowing people to live.” The police dispatched to the scene placed Lee’s body in a truck and summoned everyone who had seen the writing on the wall to ask them not to spread the word. Despite the warning, news of the schocking incident has become widely known.

Serious Body Swelling Due to Grass Poisoning in Taetan County
The farmers at the collective farm in Taetan town(태탄읍), Taetan County(태탄군), South Hwanghae Province do their work while living on a few potatoes and grass gruel. Despite the burden of weeding all day long on such minimal sustenance, their workload is never reduced. The farmers are complaining about the pain of such hard work. Although there is an assigned portion that has to be accomplished in a day, many farmers fall short, saying that it is impossible for them to do the work.

Farmers in Taetan County now survive on grass porridge. Unfortunately, in the current season the grass contains a toxin. As a result, people are suffering from serious swelling in the face and in the body no matter how hard they try to remove the toxin. Due to the fear of grass poison people are now eating fresh water fish, marsh snails, and frogs in the rice field or in the marsh.

4 Kilograms of Ryanggang Province Potato is Traded for 1 Kilogram of Corn
Due to the high altitude of Ryanggang Province, potato is the staple crop rather than grain, rice, or corn. According to the rule stipulated by the state, the ratio between potato and grain is 4 to 1. Therefore, 4 kilograms of potato should be traded with 1 kilogram of rice. However, due to the severe food shortage, the same amount of potatoes can just barely bring in a kilogram of corn, rather than rice. Affluent people have been able to stockpile corn, lending some of it to those who are considered capable of paying back in the springtime when food becomes scarce. One kilogram of borrowed corn is paid back with two kilograms of corn in the fall. Some very desperate people offer to repay with non-glutinous rice in the fall in return for 1 kg of corn. As exorbitant deals become more common, people say, “this is the age of people who have money.” Mr. Han Joon-Hyun (age 39) who lives in Bak-Am says, “There are many reported cases of people taking huge advantage of others in desperate situations. However, it is very rare to see someone getting punished for such exploitation. They do not take it seriously even when people report it because they can often get away with the crime through bribery."

Marketplace, Crowded in the Agricultural Mobilization Period
The population density in market places has increased as the nationwide agricultural mobilization period continues and shopping hours have been shortened. Although it varies by region, markets are normally open from 6pm to 8pm daily. Some merchants roam around the corners of a marketplace until 10pm while assessing the situation. People who worked all day long in the field drag their tired bodies to the marketplace as soon as they finish work in order to buy food. The sheer number of people pouring into the marketplace looks like so many waves in a sea. Despite fatigue from the long day of farm work, farmers still come to the marketplace as soon as their labor is complete. The merchants sell food in the corners of town usually until 10 pm. In the midst of all this, incidents involving young Kkotjebis roaming around in groups and stealing things or robbing people occur frequently. People are told to go back home with the sound of a bell at 8 pm. Nevertheless, the marketplace is often crowded with people until 10 pm.

Even Farms Receiving Food in Hoeryong City Complain About Food Shortage
In Hoeryong City of North Hamgyung Province, the farms have been facing immense difficulty in obtaining food. Farm workers in the districts of Daeduk-ri (대덕리), Wonsan-ri (원산리), Poongsan-ri(풍산리) and Shinheung-ri(신흥리) cannot even go to work. The supervisors and team leaders go door to door at dawn to ask for these workers to work, but their efforts are futile. Even before beginning their search for farm workers, they had already gone to the mountains to dig up medicinal herbs or grass. All the family members of the workers dig up and wash bellflowers, local herbs and spring onions to sell them in the market or to a herb management office. They can barely manage to live with the money earned. Since everyone lives in this way, it is difficult for gatherers to differentiate between crops and weeds, resulting in wasted effort.

In and around the Daeduk-ri farms, residents pick weeds in the fields close to a big roadside, but not in the mountainous areas. As a result, the grass in these areas has grown thick, making it harder to differentiate between the grass and crops. The farms inevitably provide a small amount of food for the workers after a day’s work. The workers often gather edible weeds from the fields and take them home. The weeds are mixed with the corn powder the farm provided in order to make a meal. However, eating like this has caused indigestion, an acute form of colitis, and diarrhea among the workers. Some workers fear that if this situation continues until August without an outside food supply, people will die of starvation even in Hoeryong City.

A Good Supervisor is the One Who Gives out Potatoes
Instead of turning in all of the potatoes to the farms during the fall potato harvest, some farm supervisors in Ryanggang Province hide a few in holes dug at the edge of the fields. The supervisors give out these potatoes to their workers during the spring food shortage season. Workers say, “Making the workers work at the right time at the right season is what a smart supervisor should do.” Taking care of some of the workers’ food problems in this way can be credited to the farm chairmen as well, who are silent on this matter. However, the production of potatoes has been decreasing annually due to the amount of the secretly hoarded potatoes, along with a great number of potato thefts.



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