North Korea Today No.184

No. 184 August 2008
Kkotjebi Relief Centers in Chungjin Distributing Maize
Pyongyang's Food Distribution Reduced for Some
: Increasing Number of People Going To Work without Even a Bowl of Grass Porridge
Stolen Green Corn is Equivalent to Two Jungbo

People in
Ryanggang Province Secure Food at Hamgyong Province
We Are No Longer Scared of Ordinary Hunger or Diseases

[Opinion] Follow Chungjin’s Example

(Image by Google earth)

Kkotjebi Relief Centers in Chungjin Distributing Maize
Starting in July, Kkotjebi (homeless people;꽃제비) Relief Centers in Chungjin, North Hamgyong Province began distributing maize, and each Kkotjebi was also distributed a set of work clothes produced in Eunha Textile Factory(은하피복공장). According to one official, "the city government has decided to provide Kkotjebi with medicine and daily necessities to foster a sense of stability and security in their lives. The city is doing its best to contain and reduce the number of Kkotjebi, but the food situation this year was so severe that it is proving difficult to combat the situation." The official remarked that the constant influx of Kkotjebi from other regions into Chungjin was causing headaches for the city's officials. The official went on to say that "For the moment, the Kkotjebis are being placed in relief centers, but because there is a limit to the number of Kkotjebi these places can hold and the conditions are so poor, many of the Kkotjebis run away. The city is trying different tactics to deal with the situation, but a solution is proving difficult to come by." The current distribution of food to Kkotjebi when there has been no food distribution for the general population is an unprecedented event.

July, Pyongyang's Food Distribution Reduced for Some
In the central districts of the Pyongyang City, a 15 day ration of long grain rice and crushed maize was distributed to residents in June. Also in July, a 15 day ration of food was distributed. However, in some areas of the city, the supply of food could not meet demand and some households only received two days worth of rations before food distribution was suspended. In the Dongdaewon district (동대원구역), one week worth of wheat flour noodles and crushed maize was distributed.

Pyongyang City: Increasing Number of People Going To Work without Even a Bowl of Grass Porridge
In some suburban areas of
Pyongyang City, the food shortage crisis seems to be getting worse. Primary Parties of some enterprises give a daily lectures saying, “In this tough situation, you must come to work with a heart of loving this company and loyalty to the General. Thus, you must come to work even though you have any troubles. Although you feel really bad, you must come to work and lay down in the company and go back your home”. With the dire food shortage, workers who do show up for work do not go back home for lunch because they don’t have anything to eat, and instead many workers remain in the company and take a nap until afternoon check-in.

Stolen Green Corn is Equivalent to Two Jungbo[1]

Farmers in Phyhyun County, North Pyongan Province, have not received any food in July so they have resorted to stealing green corn from the farm’s cornfield. However, so much corn has been stolen so that the farm management committee is warning that anyone who is caught stealing even a single ear of corn on the cornfield will be reported to the committee. The committee threatened that it would withhold rations for 15 to 30 days and deduct 20,000 won in cash from their total compensation. They decided to use this strict measure because they calculated that the amount of the stolen corn could be equivalent to two Jungbo. Farmers severely complained about this treatment and said, “Without giving us any food, they prevent us from eating at all. Does it mean we live or die?”
[1] Jungbo is a unit of area, about 9,917.4㎡

People in Ryanggang Province Secure Food at Hamgyong Province
Daehongdan and Baearm in Ryanggang Province still have very dire food shortage situation. Because they sold and/or ate anything that could be used for food last spring, people do not have enough food in the places where they do not have new potatoes to harvest yet. The food shortage was serious this spring and many farmers did not prepare the fields for planting. Instead, farmers and workers collected wild greens and medical herbs in the mountains and cultivated their own small patch of land, so they were so busy. Some farms and enterprises visited nearby farms in North and South Hamgyong Provinces, borrowed crops with a condition of paying back 1.5 times of potatoes in the fall, and distributed them to their workers. Recently, they visited even a village by the sea to buy dried seaweed or squid and they promised the payment with new potatoes in the fall.

Borrowing Money from Lenders Is Not Easy
At the Onsung County’s 4.25 Cigarette Enterprise of North Hamgyung Province, more than half of the workers have had only thin corn porridge mixed with clover due to the food shortage. Because the food shortage is critical, some people would even turn to loan sharks for money to solve their current food problems. Farmers of this area are eager to borrow money or food even paying high interest to lenders, but they know matters are worse when even lenders don’t have money to loan.

We Are No Longer Scared of Ordinary Hunger or Diseases
One import/export tradesman in Pyongyang, when asked, “How are the people faring in the reality of the Chosun today?” answered in the following:
“With the stoppage of the public distribution of food, many people underwent great pains and faced survival crisis. When you have to solve your own needs without government handouts, then you have to have strong will and either farm your own small plots of land or engage in small-scale trading. When there is nothing, you do have to sometimes make do with roots and grasses as your meals, but most of the people who have survived up to now have pretty much overcome their direst challenges and adapted to the reality. Right now, everyone is concerned only with filling their bellies as much as they can.

The food shortage is not limited to just one specific demographics; everyone is in a similar boat. And everyone is doing whatever he or she each can to survive on his own. Today, no one is fearful of ordinary hunger or disease, since they are all so inured to these everyday difficulties. It is no longer that painful to go without any culture or TV because of lack of electricity. The habit of dependency has disappeared from people’s consciousness over the last ten years of having to fend for themselves. Now they are used to self-reliance and can overcome difficulties much more easily. In any other country, the government would have been toppled several times over in such conditions. But that is not the case here because the people have developed a coping mechanism to deal with even the worst challenges to survival. Furthermore, food is still being distributed to the ruling class no matter what.”

But even he, despite his positive evaluation of the North Korean people’s ability to cope, showed concern over this year’s food shortage crisis. “You can say the food crisis began this year suddenly. When I was traveling here and there, the food shortages started happening already two winters ago after the huge flood damages of two summers’ ago in 2006. Back then, people were saying that another Arduous March would be coming as a result, and they were right. We somehow managed to cope through last year but, with another flood whose damages lasted into this year, the situation is getting poorer. To make matters worse, the government took away the small plot farming management and prohibited younger women from the markets, which were huge mistakes. Since small plot farming and trading in markets were the two pillars of people’s coping mechanism, it is like sending a message of death if you a want to stop people from doing those things. I don’t know what’s gong on here.” He was even more worried about-facing next year after surviving through this one.

[Opinion] Follow Chungjin’s Example
Eleven Kkotjebis ran away en masse after complaining that, “This way we will all die.” They could no longer stand the hunger after only being given half-full bowls of undeterminable meals made from whatever is left over from making corn rice. This happened on May 28th in a Kkotjebi shelter located in Chungjin, North Hamgyung Province.

In light of this, it is a positive turn of events that Chungjin City supposedly distributed clothes and corn, albeit in small amounts, to the orphanages and shelters. It was not any special holiday. There was not any order from the top. Yet, the city decided to support the Kkotjebis before anyone else, which is something that should be commended.

Everyone wants to give aid to those who need it the most. No one wants to see his or her aid wasted on someone who can do fine without it in the first place. In that sense, what Chungjin City did – that they supported the Kkotjebis on a priority basis because they were the most needy – is something that other localities should sit up and take notice.

North Korean government should shower unstinted praise on the Chungjin City government and act to establish a principle of giving food and aid as a priority basis to those who are most vulnerable. High officials and military should be given food from the stock produced domestically and outside food aid should be distributed to the vulnerable population, thereby earning the trust and goodwill of the international donor community and ensure the continuity of the aid. It was hard enough to restart the international aid process this time. Therefore, the North Korean government should abide by the demands of the international community to distribute food aid to those who need it the most and thereby be recognized as a nation that follows international humanitarian norms.

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