North Korea Today No.179


No. 179 July 2008
●Ahnbyun County, Kangwon Province Completely Gave Up the Expectation of Rations
●Having Three Meals with Potatoes in the Power Plant of Military First Youth in Ryanggang Province
●Food Situation Still Tense, Although the Number of People Dying From Hunger Has Decreased
●The Story of Mr. Choi, Who Lost His Entire Family, but Survived Himself.
●“Now I Will Steal Food without Feeling Guilty”
●Region That Once Received Personal Guidance From the Great Leader Is Now Relegated To Eating Grass Porridge.
●Grass and Weeds Litter the Fields of Even the Revolutionary Regions
●[Opinion] If This Is What The International Inspectors Have Witnessed, The Reality Is Far Worse.

(Image by Google earth)
Ahnbyun County, Kangwon Province Completely Gave Up the Expectation of Rations
Workers of companies, enterprises and residents of Ahnbyun County, Kangwon Province, said they stopped receiving rations this year. They hoped to receive even a small amount up until July, but are now thoroughly disappointed, as they have not received any food. Residents of this area have agreed that they may not receive rations at all this year.

Hwang, Geum-cheol (49) describes residents’ thoughts, “Soldiers are participating in a nationwide campaign for families of military officers to receive two meals a day, and they receive no rations at all. How then can common people even imagine getting rations? Most of my friends agree with me and we have talked about the fact that getting rations is impossible. Before harvesting new crops this fall, people need to do self-sufficiency, so that everyone makes the best possible effort to feed themselves.” As Mr. Hwang’s describes the situation, “the residents of this area have very busy summer seasons and try to secure food in order to solve the food shortage before the harvest of this year. They quit their jobs for companies and enterprises that only mobilize them, and instead do their best to cultivate them land, by planting even one extra head of Korean cabbage or radish. Some people go to the mountains to collect medical herbs and others go to sea to make money by catching fish.

Having Three Meals with Potatoes in the Power Plant of Military First Youth in Ryanggang Province
The food shortage is extremely critical at the construction site of the power plant of the Military First Youth (선군청년발전소) at Baekarm County, Ryanggang Province. The workers say that they have not had a meal out of whole corn or corn noodle in more than one month. Since the beginning of July, they have had whole potatoes three times a day as a regular meal. In any case, they cannot eat potatoes as much as they want. They can eat only a few potatoes for a meal, so they say they feel hungry immediately after having the meal. The headquarters of the construction try to speed up the construction process before beginning the monsoon, so they force workers to start working at 5 am before their breakfast, until 8 or 9 pm. Because they do not eat well and the burden of labor is heavy, there are many sick people now. Some construction workers who have money eat food at a market. Though these workers also feel hungry, other laborers who cannot afford to buy food at the market just endure hunger day after day. The headquarters have already requested that their upper office solve the food shortage problem, but they have not received any answer yet. Unless the upper office solves this food problem as soon as possible, the headquarters reported that they will have no choice but to stop the construction temporarily.

Food Situation Still Tense, Although the Number of People Dying From Hunger Has Decreased
In regions that include Poongchun-ri, Ohhyun-ri, Chuntae-ri of Yeonahn County, and Chungdan County in South Hwanghae Province, households without food are receiving 6-10 kg of first-harvest barley. Those living in collective farms that have experienced extreme deprivation, death by hunger, and non-ambulatory cases due to hunger weakness, received 4 kg more per household. Regardless of whether a household has received barley rations or not, there has been an increase in the number of households stealing corn ears. In May to June, there have been many stories of people starving to death, but they quieted down in July. People say that they will not starve as they did during the spring hardship season since they now have first-harvest corn and vegetables to eat. However, they do have to subsist largely on grass porridge until the fall harvest. There are still many households surviving on one or two meals a day.

The Story of Mr. Choi, Who Lost His Entire Family, but Survived Himself
Choi Bok-nam (46), who lost all five family members and survived himself in Jaeryong County, the breadbasket of South Hwanghae Province, went to his sister’s house in Sinuiju a while ago. He said that due to the food shortage, he lost his wife and children one by one, due to starvation. His mind and body are in such pain now, because he is weak and has lost his family. He is in shock and often seems to be out of his mind. Residents of Sinuiju who have heard of Mr. Choi’s situation at Jaeryong this spring are surprised at the severe situation.

Mr. Choi stated, “With this food shortage, people went to the mountains, peeled off inner layers of pine trees, and mixed them with flour for food. Old people died from constipation. During this famine there have been more deaths of older people. Because this year has been tougher than last, many people have stolen transformers of electricity. When one of my friends stole copper cables and sold them to copper traders, he was caught and sent to prison. He has never done anything like this because in the past he could afford to manage his life without doing anything illegal. However, he felt forced to perform this illegal act because he could not survive this year. On the other hand, I now curse myself because I did not try this. I would have faced prison or execution if it would have saved my family.” When Mr. Choi told stories of Jaeryong, he also commented feeling guilty about surviving without being able to save his family. Jo Kwang-hyun (52) heard Mr. Choi’s story and consoled him, “Here we have some people eating grass, so I guess that Jaeryong has similar situations. However, I did not ever expect to hear that people got so desperate that they peeled the skins of pine trees and ate them. In any case, the survivors must live, so that people that pass away can feel comfort and peace.”

“Now I Will Steal Food without Feeling Guilty”
Residents of Hwanghae Province are saying that people have become as desperate seeing all these people dying from hunger and barely subsisting on grass porridge. The only thing left to feel is desperation. There are many who are waiting only for the fall harvest to pilfer and store as much food as they possibly can. People stole food before, but now they will do so without any sense of guilt. Although recent crops from the first harvest allowed people to barely overcome the current food crisis, there is no guarantee that another life or death crisis won’t come again. That’s why the first order at hand is to gather as much food as possible this fall to survive through the winter and spring of next year.

Region That Once Received Personal Guidance From the Great Leader Is Now Relegated To Eating Grass Porridge
Namjak-ri in Yeonsa County of North Hamgyong Province had always been known as a great place to farm, with its clear water and nice hills. Its residents were proud to be singled out as a region that received personal guidance from Kim Il-sung in 1991 when he was still alive. But times have changed. Today, Namjak-ri is known as the poorest and most barren location in all of Yeonsa County. Out of the 44 households in Namjak-ri, only three to four can afford to eat corn meals, with the rest surviving on grass porridge. With the worsening food shortages, it’s not just Namjak-ri that’s experiencing hardships. Other localities in Yeonsa County such as Yeaonsu-ri, Palso-ri, Gwangyang-ri, Seoksoo-ri, Sampo-ri, and others are all in similar situations.

Grass and Weeds Litter the Fields of Even the Revolutionary Regions
Durubong-ri of Onsung County in North Hamgyong Province attracts a lot of people during the holidays because it’s the region where a young Kim Il-sung spent much of his time being a revolutionary. As such, the revolutionary spirit of workers in this collective area is usually higher than that of other regions. However, the food shortages this year are such that even this farm has workers who cannot join in the weeding efforts because they are busy scrounging for food. The result of this is corn and bean fields full of weeds. In response, the local party is mobilizing the Democratic Women’s Union members of Onsung and Ontan County to join in the weeding effort.

[Opinion] If This Is What The International Inspectors Have Witnessed, The Reality Is Far Worse
● 5~6 million North Koreans can’t eat full meals and survive on wild fruit, tree barks, or roots, and are in danger of succumbing to famine.
● Daily rations for city dwellers decreased from 450-500g to 150g, and children are being sent to the countryside where the food situation is comparatively better.
(From WFP Beijing Press Conference)
● Malnutrition, digestive disorder, and diarrhea are on the increase while immunity is falling because of chronic malnutrition. There is a 20-40% increase in the number of patients compared to this time last year.
● School and job attendance is down by 5-20%. Children don’t have any energy. Workers are unable to work for several days at a time.
(Quoted from the executive summary of US NGO’s Food Inspection team 미국 NGOs 식량 실사단체의 북한 식량난 실사 보고서)

The reports from last June’s fact-finding trip by WFP and other American NGOs have been partially released. It’s easy to understand how serious the food shortage situation in North Korea is by just looking at the executive summary of main findings. WFL has noted that North Hamgyung Province and Ryangang Province, with their increasing malnutrition and contagious diseases, are especially prone to a humanitarian crisis by August. They worry that other regions can also go from a “chronic food shortage” situation to an “extreme food shortage and survival crisis” situation.

If the inspectors can come up with such findings by examining only the areas that North Korean authorities permit them to visit, under an official’s watch at that, it’s not hard to imagine what the vulnerable population in other regions might be going through. Good Friends have recently reported that the Hwanghae Provinces were the hardest hit up to June, but that they stabilized somewhat with the incoming first-harvests; now, it’s the Kangwon and Jagang Provinces that are suffering the most, with their mountainous terrains not conducive to farming.

Even accounting for regional differences, the crisis faced by the vulnerable population is a nationwide phenomenon. Whether they fall into a famine situation or not, depends on how quickly we act to help them survive.

North and South Korean governments no longer have the luxury of time to engage in an embarrassing fight over the Diamond Mountain Shooting in the international arena. Although the South Korean people will be embarrassed by the inner-Korea spat, the poor people of North Korea could literally be at the risk of dying out without humanitarian aid from South Korea.

Now that the South Korean government has seen the findings of the report by WFP and American NGOs – who have come to such dire conclusions by visiting only a few, select regions that they were allowed to see – they have to act and send unconditional aid to North Korea. The North Korean government must also cooperate to make sure that needed food is delivered to those who are at famine’s door. While political problems should be solved through political process, humanitarian issues should be dealt with strictly according to humanitarian principles.
Good Friends: Center for Peace, Human Rights and Refugees
If you need further information, please contact

Good Friends (Korea)
Good Friends USA (Washington, DC)
Tel: 1-202-824-0788/1-301-455-9196(D)