GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 311/No.311-1 Hot Topics December 2009

[“Good Friends” aims to help the North Korean people from a humanistic point of view and publishes “North Korea Today” describing the way the North Korean people live as accurately as possible. We at Good Friends also hope to be a bridge between the North Korean people and the world.]
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[Hot Topics No. 311]
City of Pyongyang Experiences a Sudden Increase in Number of People Starving during Period of Currency Revaluation
Merchants Set Prices of Grains at Ratio of 100 to 1
Prices of Grain Skyrocket on December 3 in Pyongyang
Anyone Who Burns Old Bills Will Be Punished
Market Prices Are Set by Merchants at Their Will
Rumors of Ban on Foreign Currency Cause Merchandise to Disappear
Merchant Dies of Heart Attack on News of Currency Revaluation after Receiving Payment of 90 Million Won in Old Currency


[Editorial]
Measures for Securing Livelihood are Needed during the Chaotic Period of Currency Revaluation

[Hot Topics No. 311-1]
Sinuiju: Lack of Medical Equipment difficult to prevent Spread of H1N1 Influenza
Hush, on the spread of the H1N1 Influenza,
“It May Hinder the process of being a Strong and Prosperous Nation
Command to take Tight Quarantine between Sinuiju – Dandong
Pyongyang, 7 Young people Died within 20days
Public Health Authority Strain to Make Contingency for Preventing Spreading H1N1 Influenza
Ministry of Public Health and the Ministry of Education,
Called All Schools to have a Winter Break
Teachers are Ordered to “Check on the health status of students during the break.”


[Editorial]
Concerted Efforts Needed to Stop the Spread of New Flu in North Korea
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[Hot Topics No. 311]
City of Pyongyang Experiences a Sudden Increase in Number of People Starving during Period of Currency Revaluation
A few days after November 30, the day when the currency revaluation was announced, City of Pyongyang experienced a sudden increase in number of people starving. The attendance records of schools in Pyongyang reveal that an average of 8 to 10 students out of 40 were absent from school. It is an absenteeism of a quarter of all the students, on average. Absent students answered that being hungry was the reason. In Pyongyang, everyone, regardless of being wealthy or dirt poor, is going through a hard time because of shortage of food. Government authorities are worried about increasing number of starving people because market activities will not be normalized until December 6. In conjunction with these difficulties, trading companies in Pyongyang call their branches in China for substitute food items.

Merchants Set Prices of Grains at Ratio of 100 to 1
On December 1 and 2 after the currency revaluation, grains were sold in new currency at Dangsang Market of Mangyongdae District, Pyongyang. White rice of good quality was sold at 16 to 17 Won per Kg, corn at 7 Won and flour at 15 Won, respectively. Also in the Gangandong Market of City of Soonchun, South Pyongan Province, rice is sold at 17 Won per Kg, corn at 7 Won and corn noodle at 8 Won. Merchants follow the ratio of 100 to 1 as set by the government in determining the grain prices. However, some merchants had sold grains in old currency, 30,000 Won per Kg in old currency, 12,000 Won for corn and 25,000 Won for flour. Since no prices have been set by the government so far, many prices of merchandise are being set by the merchants at their will. No merchandise other than grains and other agricultural products is being traded.

Prices of Grain Skyrocket on December 3 in Pyongyang
As of December 2, the price of rice was in the range of 16 to 17 Won in new currency. However, suddenly on December 3, it skyrocketed to 50 Won. Rumor has it that wages seems to be stable with no other benefits rising. This skyrocketed price of rice became the source of numerous complaints. 50 Won in new currency means 5,000 Won per Kg in old currency. Recalling that rice used to cost 18,000 to 20,000 Won per Kg prior to the currency revaluation, the price has more than doubled.

Anyone Who Burns Old Bills Will Be Punished
Government authorities announced that the act of burning old bills after the currency revaluation will be punished severely. Residents would rather burn the worthless old bills than submit them to the government. It is because the residents are concerned that submission of large amount of old bills would bring the attention of the government as to how the money was made. National organization of the provincial security agencies declared the period of November 30 to December 7 to be a special period of security alerts. Provincial mobile units of security agents check the houses whose chimneys generate smoke during odd hours for cooking. The agents randomly check kitchen furnaces. It is because many residents burn the worthless old bills they cannot dispose exceeding the legal limits of currency exchange.

Market Prices Are Set by Merchants at Their Will
Nowadays prices in old bills are called by the merchants at their will. There are no set prices on the merchandise. Accordingly the merchants call the prices as they please. Not long ago, price of rice used to be 1,800 to 2,000 Won per Kg in old currency. Now rice sells for 30,000 Won. Corn used to cost 900 Won and sells for 12,000 Won. Flour for 1,700 Won in the past, costs 25,000 Won now. An egg cost 300 Won and jumps to 7,000 Won now. Price of pork skyrocketed from 5,000 to 80,000 Won. Merchants ask for 150,000 Won for a rabbit and 120,000 Won for a chicken. In the morning of December 2 at Sapo District Market of City of Hamheung, South Hamgyong Province, an egg costs 10,000 Won, pork sells for 10,000 Won, white rice 30,000 Won per Kg and corn 15,000 Won.

Rumors of Ban on Foreign Currency Cause Merchandise to Disappear
On December 3, as rumors of ban on foreign currency were spread, merchandise at the foreign exchange shops disappeared in places, such as Pyongyang, Pyongsung, Sariwon and Sinuiju, leaving the shops look deserted. Another rumor went around on December 4 of ban on Renminbi Yuan and it caused a severe congestion of inter-city communications lines because of phone calls attempting to verify the rumors from the party leaders. A wholesaler in Pyongsung described the situation like this, “Everyone is restless without knowing what the next may bring. One Won in new bill feels like a thousand pieces of gold.” It is known that visiting Chinese and children of Korean Japanese are entitled to exchange some foreign currency.

Merchant Dies of Heart Attack on News of Currency Revaluation after Receiving Payment of 90 Million Won in Old Currency
In the market of Soonchun, South Pyongan Province, a merchant of seafood needs a sum of as much as 90 million Won in a transaction. These transactions involve receiving seafood from the East Sea at Soonchun through Daeheung seafood base and transferring it to Pyongsung market. A female merchant received a payment of 90 million Won on the day of currency revaluation. She heard the news of the currency revaluation an hour after she received the payment. It caused such a shock to her that she died of heart attack. In the meantime government has a policy that allows a priority to the family of anyone who dies during the currency exchange period to exchange currency and receive cash before other families.

[Editorial]
Measures for Securing Livelihood are Needed during the Chaotic Period of Currency Revaluation
On November 30, North Korea carried out currency revaluation in 17 years. Through this measure North Korea seems to have attempted to strengthen social control by means of absorbing civilian money into government treasury and eliminate anti-socialist commercial activities in order to redirect its economically active population into industrial production sites. However, the residents’ anger and frustration is indescribable given that they have worked so hard to save money without relying on the government ever since Arduous March.

The currency reform measure needs to be implemented while minimizing the confusion and inconveniences on the part of the people. Despite meticulous execution the inconveniences people have to deal with should not be taken lightly. Purchasing of food has become difficult because of chaotic situation in the market during the currency exchange period. As such, there should be a measure that will facilitate securing of food for the people first. The prices need to be set as soon as possible in order to stabilize the market or a full-scale food rationing should resume. If that is not possible, food rationing should be provided to those who could not secure food at least for a few days.

The success of this currency reform measure lies with whether North Korean government can secure enough resources needed for the livelihood of people. Without food rations and wages what is gained by currency reform would not last long. The prices will rise again and the goods will inevitably converge into market where better price is expected. The North Korean government proclaimed that the purpose of currency reform was to resolve people’s food problem and prepare the foundation for the Strong and Prosperous Nation. Resuming of food rationing to those who suffer from food problem will serve as the yardstick for North Korean government’s will for currency reform.


[Hot Topics No. 311-1]
News Flash
H1N1 Influenza Spreads in North Korea

Sinuiju: Lack of Medical Equipment difficult to prevent Spread of H1N1 Influenza
H1N1 Influenza is spreading from early November in Sinuiju, North Pyongan province. There have been some patients with symptoms of fever like common cold; however, it is difficult to get diagnosed even in the hospitals. The Provincial Sanitation and Quarantine Unit of North Pyongan province called the influenza as the ‘Swine Virus’, but after a few deaths of children infected from the influenza, it later identified as the ‘epidemic as the likes of the bird flu’. However, the causes are yet to be known. The spread of the influenza is said to be quite fast, as there were 6 people infected within 3days since the first infection from the influenza in early November. Around 40 patients of adolescents and children have died suffering from high fever.

The Provincial Sanitation and Quarantine Unit and the Provincial Public Health Unit medical officials held an urgent meeting to plan for a contingency on the matter. Then, all the patients suffering from the influenza were sent to a rural hospital to be treated in isolation.

Presently, the medical officials from the Provincial Sanitation and Quarantine Unit were isolating households in the neighborhood where the patients were found and closely monitoring 3times a day. Unfortunately there is no measure to prevent the spread of the H1N1 influenza since there are high deficiency of equipments and techniques. They are saying that once infected, ‘it is fatal and death is certain’, and to isolate anyone who had close contact with the identified patients, and will be closely monitored in isolation for 25 to 30days for any symptoms may arise.

Hush, on the spread of the H1N1 Influenza, ''It May Hinder the process of being a Strong and Prosperous Nation"
Party officials are showing grave concerns on the spread of the influenza that it, ‘hinders the way of being a Strong and Prosperous Nation강성대국 and it affects the face and authority of the nation, thus, complete isolation of those infected is crucial. Particularly emphasizing that “ it would be a great shame if the international community to find out young people from North Korea were dying without getting a proper care at a stage where we are viciously building to be a Strong and Prosperous Nation’ .

Command to take Tight Quarantine between Sinuiju – Dandong
The city of Sineuju, North Pyongan Province determined that the most recent H1N1 influenza is the epidemic virus from the city of Dandong and other border area with China. The government security will take more firm control on the immigration and enhance quarantine on the travelers crossing the border. Public health authority is calling on the meetings for contingency with the officials in related fields after reviewing the cases from Sinuiju.

Pyongyang, 7 Young people Died within 20days
The H1N1 influenza is shown to have spreading fast among children and young people. According to report of an official from the Ministry of Education of the City of Pyongyang, there were 7 young people died within 20days just in November. Theses include 2 university students 21 years of age, a 23 year-old university student, 2 soldiers of the 8.28 Youth Assault Section.

This has only been reported to the Public Health authority from the internal investigation since this cannot be known publicly not only in Pyongyang, but in other major cities. Two persons have died in the city of Pyongsung, a person dying in the early November and another died 26 days later. At the moment there are 6 patients in isolation, but these are not diagnosed as the H1N1 influenza infected with certainty. In Jogunsil Teacher’s College조군실 사범대학, Wonsan, Kangwon Province, 2 freshmen female students have contracted the H1N1 influenza. The University authority has assembled the students on both 24th and 25th of November for them to take full caution not to contract H1N1 influenza. A student in the Sariwon Medical School, North Hwanghae province, contracted the influenza after having been to his home at Sinuiju. At first it seemed like common cold, but the colleagues advised to take a closer check – and the result was that he had contracted H1N1influenza. The student was treated in isolation, but soon died after suffering for 15 days.

Public Health Authority Strain to Make Contingency for Preventing Spreading H1N1 Influenza
December 1, the Ministry of Public Health has called on a meeting to make contingency plan to prevent H1N1 influenza from spreading. In the meeting a few suggestions have put forward for preventative measures, such as, importing the vaccines, students whose health are in doubt and isolate in the individual homes. Also, traffic control on all vehicles and trains that are transporting to and from Sinuiju and local councils should educate public on about the influenza and its fatality to enhance policy on the prevention. Ultimately, however, it is up to individual household whom should observe the preventative measures.

Ministry of Public Health and the Ministry of Education, Called All Schools to have a Winter Break
The Ministry of Public Health and the Ministry of Education held a meeting responding to the crisis. The Ministry of Public health signified that they would need to make a cautious approach since most of deaths were occurring from under 23 years of age.
The Ministry of Education decided to call on all schools nation-wide to have a winter break a month earlier. The winter holiday usually starts after the New Year’s celebration on January 1, and begins from the 3rd, but this year because of the influenza they have started holidays a month ahead of the usual period.
The Ministry of Education have sent official letters to all schools including universities, colleges, high schools and elementary schools that, ‘there will be school holidays from the December 4, due to epidemic of the new virus infections and that it is a special consideration from the General Kim Jongil. An official from the Ministry of Education said that, ‘there have been increases in the numbers of students who have contracted influenza including Pyongyang and other major cities. He also added that the Epidemic of the New Flu is expanding, thus, closing the school is the inevitable outcome.

Teachers are Ordered to “Check on the health status of students during the break.”
As an attempt to prevent the spread of the new flu the education department of city and county throughout the nation issued an order requesting the teachers to check on the health status of students during the break. This means teachers are asked to visit the homes of students in person, paying a visit to 35 homes if a teacher has 35 students to see if anyone is ill. Also, they ordered the teachers that “The best efforts should be made for prevention by following the Party’s health policy and establish meticulous safety measures.” They are stressing the importance of prevention because the treatment of infected patients is difficult. Currently, the number of fatality from the flu is increasing nationwide, but there are not enough wards for patients suspected of being infected as well as not enough medicine, making the authorities keep constant vigil.

[Editorial]
Concerted Efforts Needed to Stop the Spread of New Flu in North Korea
In the midst of nationwide chaos caused by currency revaluation, the number of patients infected by the new flu is increasing very rapidly in some areas. The outbreaks of infected cases or death are reported in Sinuiju followed by Pyongyang, Pyungsung, Wonsan, and Sariwon. Considering the current trend the possibility of the spread of the flu nationwide cannot be excluded. The North Korean government seems to be working hard by taking measures such as strengthening the custom inspection at Dandong-Sineuju, importing the vaccine, informing the residents about the risk factors of the flu and ordering early winter break for schools.

There are several reasons that require extra cautions for the new flu in North Korea.
First, currently North Korean residents are at the state of chronic malnutrition due to a long-term food shortage. As such, the new flu can be extremely dangerous epidemic to North Koreans with their weakened immune system. The only way to lower the fatality rate and prevent the rapid spread of the flu is to provide people with sufficient nutrition.

Second, the public health condition for prevention is in a dire situation as well. Even the developed countries aren’t able to come up with measures that go beyond securing the vaccine other than emphasizing the importance of maintaining clean sanitary conditions and washing hands thoroughly. The North Korean people are exposed to constant threat of infection because of lack of sanitary items such as masks, hand sanitizers, as well as clean drinking water.

Third, there are problems with lack of medical equipments, technology, and medicine. Several other problems that hinder implementation of proper actions such as securing of vaccines, diagnostic equipments for early detection, quarantine and treatment of infected patients, and provision of basic medicine to residents.

As such, the North Korean government must seek assistance from the international community instead of hiding the outbreaks of the new flu. Above all, they should ask for help from the World Health Organization (WHO) for epidemiological investigation and receive the vaccines as soon as possible. They should also ask for help with necessary medical equipments from South Korea and the international community.

South Korea must also respond swiftly to the request of North Korea. The flu already claimed the lives of 117 people in South Korea alone, but the epidemic is still going strong, keeping the public health authorities on constant alert. Since the danger of the new flu is much bigger in North Korea they should monitor the situation very closely and actively engage in the provision of medicine and equipments.

Politically motivated interpretations of the outbreak of the new flu as a stumbling block for construction of a strong and prosperous nation or viewing North Korea’s request of medical equipment as an outcome of strong diplomatic pressure placed against North Korea are meaningless. Despite the dialog between the South and North Korean authorities in a deadlock, resolving of imminent humanitarian crisis must be dealt with as the top priority.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is interesting reading, but please cite your sources. For example, who has access to school attendance records in Pyongyang, and enough of them to be statistically reliable? And how is this information made available in a week's time?

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