GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 176

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


North Korea Today 176th 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.”



Severe Food Shortage Problem at Munitions Factories in Jagang Province
A Doctor in Kangwon Province Says, “People Started to Die from Starvation Since Last Spring.”
Early Harvesting of Barley is in Full Swing in South Hwanghae Province
Nothing to Steal in Seungho District in Pyongyang
“Plenty of Rice is On the Way. So Have Faith.”
A Female Worker at a Textile Factory Died After Fainting in Pyongyang
A Student at the Gimchaek Engineering University Was Killed by the Subway
“It is Not Happy 10,000 Li, but Arduous 10,000 Li that is Coming.”


Severe Food Shortage Problem at Munitions Factories in Jagang Province
The Jagang Province is very mountainous and the terrain is very rough. As a war front area during the Korean War, there are many tunnels in the mountains. The tunnels are still being used as storages for weapons, equipments, artillery shells, and ammunitions, and houses ammunition factories. The land in Jagang Province is not suitable for small-lot farming or commerce because the soil is infertile and the traffic condition is bad. In many cases entire family members work in the munitions factories and it would not be an overstatement to say over half of the Jagang Province population work in the munitions factories.

For being such an important and sensitive area, this Province has received more benefits in terms of wages or rations than other provinces. However, as the food shortage problems spreads to the entire country, even food rations to these areas are decreasing this year. In the past, the rations always delivered even if late, but this year the waiting is even more difficult because they have lost hope that rations will actually arrive.

A Doctor in Kangwon Province Says, “People Started to Die from Starvation Since Last Spring.”
According to a doctor at a hospital in Wonsan of Kangwon Province, people started to die of starvation beginning last spring. The food shortage problem worsened because of the flooding in 2006 and then one or two cases of death by starvation were reported. More people started to come to the hospital because of malnutrition in early summer of last year. He said, “Most of the patients came to the hospital during that time with weaklings and food poisoning cases. Some days there were so many patients we did not have time to sterilize the syringes before we gave them injections.” He says there are more people coming to the hospital than last year. He also said, “They all have their cheekbones protruding because of starvation, their eyes have no liveliness, and their skin color in the hands and faces turned into blue-black color from collecting grass. It looks gruesome because the color cannot be washed away.” He added that there are more people dying of various diseases than before.

Early Harvesting of Barley is in Full Swing in South Hwanghae Province
Early harvesting of barley in Yeonan, Baechun, Ongjin, and Ryongyeon in South Hwanghae Province is allowing for some more food rations. The countryside was the hardest hit area for this year’s food shortage problem. Therefore, there were many farmers dying from starvation. More than half of the students could not go to school, and even the soldiers in this area could eat only two meals a day. Given the situation the residents in this area say, “The soldiers eat only two meals a day, and even the officers’ families don’t receive rations. So how can the general public have rice?” They say that they do not even dream about rice. Fortunately, the year’s new potatoes, barleys, and wheat are being harvested. Therefore, people in this area are finally feeling relieved. Mr. Go Chang-hee (age 41) says, “I thought I would die when I ate only grass porridge meals twice a day during the spring famine. People who could not eat grass porridge already died. I heard from my relatives that many people committed suicide in Eunyul County and Ryongyeon County. Now the new crops of the year are coming. Therefore, it is a relief for the time being. However, we cannot stop worrying because the food shortage problem has not been resolved.

Nothing to Steal in Seungho District in Pyongyang
The farm workers at Manda-ri farm in Seungho District in Pyongyang are eating sweet potato stems in private fields because they have nothing to eat. Currently, the main staples of the farmers in this area are sweet potato stems and mulberry leaves. Since there is no food to eat many farmers are unable to come to the farm to work. The situation is so bad in this area that there is nothing to steal for the starving soldiers. The farmers at Gwangjung-ri farm are still holding on until now with the five-month rations they have received last year. As the situation at the farms in Seungho Division is like this, there are many places where unripe barley is prematurely harvested and threshed in order to provide some food to the co-op members. As such, farmers are being mobilized by the order of Division Party Office and Division Agricultural Management Committee to premature threshing of barleys.

“Plenty of Rice is On the Way. So Have Faith.”
The authorities are giving speeches in the midst of farmers suffering from food shortage in Seungho District, Pyongyang. The village secretaries came out at a meeting of farm members and said, “Recently our government flexed its military muscles and all the countries in the world including the United States became scared, and they promised to give rice. So 500,000 MT of rice is coming from the United States. South Korea’s Lee Myungbak and his followers also offered rice to us, but we declined by saying, ‘Our people do not die without your rice.’ So have faith.” Mr. Song Jae-man (age 48) who attended the speech said, “There are people who have died from starvation at our farm, and I have heard the same story in the surrounding farms. Currently, many people are on grass diet in the surrounding areas of Pyongyang, and many children are not going to school. So when I hear such stories I do not feel like having faith. Rather, I have to wonder if they are saying such things, knowing what is going on in reality. I wonder if our government declined the rice South Korea offered while understanding how much people are suffering from starvation.”

A Female Worker at a Textile Factory Died After Fainting in Pyongyang
In mid-May, a thirty-five year old female textile worker died in a factory in Pyongyang while she was unconscious. Her co-workers said that the worker did not go home for lunch after finishing her morning work. Instead, she went to the fitting room work unit, where she fell asleep. When the other workers came to work in the afternoon, they found her unconscious. She was immediately taken to a hospital, but she never regained her consciousness, and later died in the evening. The hospital said that she died from a high fever due to a severe cold. However, her co-workers said she actually died from starvation because she had not eaten anything for the past three days. Her husband, who had been a discharged soldier, went to his parent’s house in Jagang Province to get some food since his family had nothing to eat. She gave rice porridge to her two children, which left nothing to eat for her for the past three days, eventually leading her to death.


A Student at the Gimchaek Engineering University Was Killed by the Subway
On July 5, a male junior student at the Gimchaek Engineering University (김책공업대학교) was killed by a subway at the Kwangbook Station (광북역) in Pyongyang. Kim was waiting for the subway train on the platform and the moment the subway train came in, he suddenly fell onto the rails. The accident happened so fast that nobody nearby him could save him. He was a very promising student in a doctorate program. According to his fellow classmates, he could not eat well because he was poor and he had often been sick as well because he was in weak health. They think he fell off the rails due to dizziness caused by the lack of proper meals, and the long nights he spent studying.

“It is Not Happy 10,000 Li, but Arduous 10,000 Li that is Coming.”
Words like the following are spreading in the regions like Hamheung, Heungnam of South Hamgyong Province, Kangsuh County(강서군) of South Pyongan Province, and Yeonan County of South Hwanghae Province. Since the late 1990s food crisis people say the slogan used during the Arduous March, “Arduous 1,000 Li[1] will bring happy 10,000 Li” really means, “It is not happy 10,000 Li, but arduous 10,000 Li that is coming.” The words of complaint are spreading openly as people say, “They have made us suffer long enough. Why are they making us eat grass porridge and starve to death like the late 1990s food crisis? What kind of country is this? What is the point of surveying when people are not getting any help?” The authorities are trying to stop the spread of discontent and complaints, but they cannot offer any solutions to the problems.


[1]Li (리) is a distance unit in Korea and 1 Li is around 393 m.

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