GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 166

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


North Korea Today 166th 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.”


Ryongyeon County’s Resident Carpenter, “The number of caskets made this year increased threefold from the previous year”
“Food Crisis in Kangwon Province Will Be Worse Than in Hwanghae Province”
“There is no hope since we can’t see the end of this desperate situation”
Nine hundred Kilograms (900 kg) of Fertilizer Stolen at a Collective Farm in Hwangju County
Thanks to Their Students, the Kanggun Military School Does Not Care About Absent Workers


Ryongyeon County’s Resident Carpenter, “The number of caskets made this year increased threefold from the previous year”
A carpenter from the Carpentry Unit in Ryongyeon County, South Hwanghae Providence, said that he has made over 140 coffins this year. Compared to the same time last year, the number has tripled. Similar reports could be heard from other carpenters working in the local factories and businesses. If a worker or his family member dies, the workplace provides a coffin made by one of its resident carpenters. It is easy to deduce from this report that there have been three times as many deaths in the first half of this year as there were in the same period last year. Kim Chang-duk, (age 52), relayed the dire situation: “I think more people are dying this year because of the hunger created by the higher food prices and last year’s flood that devastated the crops, coupled with several contagious diseases going around. If you just consider the place where I work, most workers and their families survive on grass porridge, many don’t show up anymore. Even though my workplace has been notorious for distributing meager rations, it was not this bad last year. For almost 6 months now, we have not even seen a food ration. Not surprisingly, you see people at work either sitting or laying down just killing time. I also noticed a lot more people with swollen faces – I am guessing it is due to Grass Porridge Poisoning. People are going to their work because of the prods and threats by the factory officers, but are not able to be productive in any sense. I’m afraid that we will see many more people dying during this crisis.”

“Food Crisis in Kangwon Province Will Be Worse Than in Hwanghae Province”
More reports of people dying of starvation are coming out of Kangwon Province as July approaches. With the exception of Wonsan, a great number of the province’s residents are starving to death. Some are saying that Kangwon Province is now the most desperate part of the country, even more so than Hwanghae Province. There are some new crops to be harvested in Hwanghae Province; but in Kangwon Province with its mountainous topography, there is neither much farming activity nor much food relief coming in from the rest of the country. The very limited amount of food being produced inside of the province and coming in from the outside is aggravating the food crisis in Kangwon Province.

The residents of Yichun County in Kangwon Province are suffering from a serious food shortage. Since most of them survive on grass porridge, they suffer from Grass Porridge Poisoning, with symptoms including swollen face, dizziness, and upset stomach. Even though factory workers show up to their job, they don’t have enough strength to work, so they end up just sitting and staring into nothing, worrying about where the next meal will come from. Some workers are going around and trying to find house work with a well-to-do family. Others work in the fields in order to eke out a bare living. In the case of Yichun’s work unit number 2, out of its 110 unit members, only about 40 come to work daily. Though there is a glaring need for more workers to weed in the fields, the foreman of the work unit cannot find more people to come out. Those who do not show up for such work go into nearby mountains to gather various herbs and medicinal plants, which they sell to make ends meet. The common phenomenon of North Korea food crisis - decrease in job attendance and surviving on grass porridge – can now be easily observed everywhere in Kangwon Province.

“There is no hope since we can’t see the end of this desperate situation”
There seems to be no hope for a better food situation among the workers of Ryongyeon County in South Hwanghae Province. Farmers are unable to do their work properly because they spend so much time catching freshwater shrimps, either to eat with rice porridge or sell in markets. Although it is a weed picking season, the field grass has grown so much that it is difficult to tell whether it is a grass field or a rice field. Ham Chun-hwa, (age 51), says, “The farm managers go to the homes of people who have not yet come for work, intending to tell them to come out and pick weeds. However, the managers come back without saying anything to them. They cannot say anything to the workers because the workers live in a situation in which they fight against the God of Death. Everyone goes to the mountains, fields, rivers, and other water sources to search for food. People can live by eating and live free from disease by eating well. However, because of the workers’ desperate situation, their survival instincts make them wander here and there to find food in order to survive. It seems that no one cares about the dying people, so they must rely on themselves and their own skills to survive. It is hopeless since we can’t see the end of this miserable situation.”

Nine hundred Kilograms (900 kg) of Fertilizer Stolen at a Collective Farm in Hwangju County
On June 23, 900 kg of fertilizer was stolen from a threshing floor at a collective farm in Hwangju County of North Hwanghae Province. The farm’s work unit had previously stockpiled 5 tons of fertilizer. The guards of the threshing floor work unit were first investigated, but everyone was clear of suspicion. Although the authorities extended their investigation to every farming family’s house, they could not find any clear clue for the theft. A farm worker, Hwang Yeon-hwa, (age 48), says, “I think many thefts occur in food shortage areas. Because our farm has so little to eat, who knows who took the fertilizer? The 900 kg of fertilizer is worth 1,800 Won. The unknown thief seems to have a lot of guts. Some of us are jealous of the thief. However, I worry because so much fertilizer has been stolen from the already insufficient amount of fertilizer. We can’t have high hopes for this year’s farming.”

Thanks to Their Students, the Kanggun Military School Does Not Care About Absent Workers
The Ohnsan-ri (오산리) farm in the Soonan District (순안구역) of Pyongyang is a part of the Kanggun Military School (강건종합군관학교). Last year, the farm suffered from a food shortage, which resulted in its workers receiving only 3 months worth of food. Due to the food shortage again this year, many workers don’t come to work. Many began to look for something to eat in the mountains a long time ago. As a result, 70 workers at work unit 3, which started with 120 workers, are now either at home or in the mountains. Only 50 workers show up for work. If other farms were in this same situation, they would not make progress in farming. However, this farm does not seem to be concerned about the situation. This disregard is a result of military students being called to work on the farm. A farmer, Hong Sung-duk, (age 57), criticized the school authorities and the farm. Hong thinks that whether the workers show up for work or not does not matter since the farm has enough of a labor force. He also denounces, “The school authorities and the farm do not take the responsibility for the workers who can’t come to work due to starvation.”

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