GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 329 Hot Topics, Food and Editorial February 2010

[“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]
Central Party’s Economic Policy Review Department Conducts Field Survey - “A serious situation with many suffering from hunger"
Danchun City Residents, “Do you mean to starve us to death?” Mass Protest
In Chungjin City, Many Households Cannot Even Afford One Meal a Day
In Danchun City, People’s Complaints Grow Stronger: “Government is doing nothing to resolve people’s starvation issue.”
Ministry of People’s Armed Forces, “All-out efforts to secure military provision”

[Food]
Farmers at Sagu-ri Farm in Chungjin Received 400kg of Food

[Editorial]
It is Time to Release Relief Rice
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[Hot Topics]
Central Party’s Economic Policy Review Department Conducts Field Survey - “A serious situation with many suffering from hunger"
In mid January, The Economic Policy Review Department of Central Party conducted a field survey to find out the living conditions of the residents. The result showed that the conditions of living are very seriously difficult. In particular, those who had been engaged in trading experienced grave difficulty due to banning of market activities and the price hike. Even if they want to do the trading in secret, there is no merchandise. Because of (the government's) severe crackdown, import-export companies and big business owners do not want to sell their goods and the market in general has shriveled up.

A staff in the Interior Department told that, "The cases where people die because they have no food or there were no food they could buy even if they had money are beginning to appear in every province." According to the statistics from the survey, "The poorest province is South Hamgyong Province, and within that province, Danchun City." Danchun City was the highest in the number of households died of starvation during the beginning of January up to 26th. In Danchun City, there are people in every group who cannot go to work due to hunger, and one or two persons die of starvation every day. A city official of Danchun City revealed that, "(the City Party) knows that there are many deaths. The case of old folks who are generally in poor health is one of the reasons, but because there is nothing to eat they get sick and die." A staff of City Party said that increasing number of people die after living without any food, just drinking water for about a week, and the situation is very serious.

According to the statistics reported to the City Party, Chungjin City in North Hamgyong Province is next in terms of the number of households dying of hunger. Many laborers congregate in Chungjin City, which played the role of wholesale market to the whole country, but due to banning of market activities the merchants received terrible blow. Most laborers had been making a living either by trading or 8.3*. They say that because of the new economy control measures the living became harder than the time of Arduous March. In other areas, those that hung on to life without food since the implementation of currency revaluation began to die gradually after mid-January.

(*translator's note: 8.3 refers to the laborers who, instead of reporting to a job that does not pay, opt to earn a living by cultivating small patch of land or trading, and pay money to his company to avoid any punishment for not reporting to work. At present, major city laborers pay Won 15,000-Won 20,000 (approx. $4 to $6) a month.)

Danchun City Residents, “Do you mean to starve us to death?” Mass Protest
Danchun City, South Hamgyong Province is named to have the highest death due to starvation by the result of the field survey, and war veteran residents from the city held a mass protest in front of their city hall. Mainly war veterans over the ages of 70-80 gathered and they were followed by other elders and residents, so the momentum was great. War veterans sat across from city office and violently complained, “We worked hard for our survival during the Arduous March, but the current movement of opening doors to the Strong and Prosperous Nation would make everyone starved to death with currency exchange. Are you going to starve us to death?” The atmosphere turned ugly for a while when residents charged up with emotions screamed after hearing war veteran’s speech. An elder cried, “What is the use of the City Party or people’s government organization when they cannot feed their people? When we followed the Great Leader during the revolution, we wanted to make sure our descendents were well-off. It doesn’t matter if old people die, but our descendents are all about to die. We don’t need such government.” The City Party of Danchun City reported this incident directly to the Central Party. On January 26, the Central Party ordered, “Distribute 1,000 tons of rice that is being saved as Number 2 reserve in Danchun City farms.” The City Party rushed distribution at the end of January to residents with the most difficult living situation. An official at Danchun City commented, “Residents of other cities and counties are having difficulties, but our residents seem to suffer the most. More people are dying and many households with 4-5 members are living off of 500g of corn noodle boiled in water.”

In Chungjin City, Many Households Cannot Even Afford One Meal a Day
On January 28th, some people in Chungjin City (i.e., two households at Songpyong district and one household at Ranam district in Chungjin city, North Hamgyong province) died of hunger. According to the survey of each neighborhood unit in Chungjin City – assuming each neighborhood unit consists of 30 households – very few households eat white rice, about 5-6 households mix of corn and rice half-and-half, about 10 households eat porridge of available grain of cereals, and the rest eat only one or two meals a day with porridge of ground corncob. In each neighborhood unit, more than half of the households struggle to take at least two meals a day, but they end up having at most one meal a day. One official of the City Party said “at this moment, people’s suffering defies description; their living condition is many times more difficult than the sufferings of the Arduous March. Many households barely make one or two meals a day with corn noodles or porridge of residues from bean oil and ground corncob. Each household struggles to take at least two meals a day, but if they fail to do so, some people in the family die of starvation.”

In Danchun City, People’s complaints Grow Stronger: “Government is doing nothing to resolve people’s starvation issue.”
Chang, Keum-Ok (alias), a resident in Danchun city, south Hamgyong province complained about the government’s inaction: “they know of people dying of hunger, but they do nothing to resolve people’s suffering.” People cannot find grain even if they want to buy, and the food prices skyrocket everyday. People can do nothing but despair at this moment. Ko, Byong-Gook (alias) complained that “if the government took away all of people’s money, they should provide services and goods to ensure people’s basic living conditions. They just say nicely, but nothing is actually coming out to support people’s basic living conditions.” There are some rumors from some part of the City Party that PDS (Public Distribution System) may be reactivated around February 16 holiday, but people are not terribly excited by that. People complain that “even if that is true, people will die of hunger while waiting for that to happen. Will the government let starving people die?” People complain that they are experiencing the worst ordeal right now: “our government does not show any mercy; instead they seem to test how long their people could survive without sufficient food.”

Ministry of People’s Armed Forces, “All-out efforts to secure military provision”
On January 20, Ministry of People’s Armed Forces convened a meeting to devise measures to secure the military provisions with commanding officers at director level of the Support Bureau, military officials and relevant cabinet officials attending. The main point made in the meeting was “The military provisions should be secured even by emptying all the harvested grains.” As the food shortage situation of people is getting worse nationwide, a possibility of riot was also suggested, if groundbreaking measure is not prepared until February. However, nobody raised opposition to the idea that securing the army provision is the priority.

[Food]
Farmers at Sagu-ri Farm in Chungjin Received 400kg of Food
At the End of Year Recapitulation for 2009 in Sagu-ri Farm in Chungjin City, North Hamgyong Province, it turned out the original grain plan was not achieved. Farmers of the 1st sub-team of the 4th work unit received the largest amount of distribution, which barely reached 400 kg of food and 100,000 won per person. The sub-teams that did not accomplish the plan received 300 kg of food and 22,000 won per person on average. Distribution for 1st, 5th and 6th work units were even cut off because they managed laboring bulls poorly. The farmers of those units had to pay indemnity for stolen or lost laboring bulls last spring and fall. The farmers who were directly responsible for the loss did not receive cash distribution at all. In addition, some bulls died from nutrition problems because they were not fed well during the plowing and harrowing season in spring, and farmers had to pay 15,000 won for compensation, from 30,000 won of distribution they received. On the other hand, some farmers who successfully managed laboring bulls received 40,000 won according to the merits for laboring bull management, even if they did not meet the grain plan. Farmers of Sagu-ri farm reported that although they received food and monetary distribution, it is not of great help as the prices keep rising. Many people say they lose motivation to work because no matter how hard they work, the prices jump in double digits and the value of new currency plummets.

[Editorial]
It is Time to Release Relief Rice
It has been reported that people are dying of hunger even though it is not spring lean season. At this point, it is just a random figure of “one or two people die out of hunger”, but considering the series of events after the currency exchange, what we have all been worried about seems to be happening. The signs were already there when the rice price skyrocketed as it rose to 1,100 won in Chungjin.

Currently, there is not much influx of rice in the market; people don’t have enough money to purchase rice even if they put the relief money and 2,000-3,000 won salary together; the means to maintain the livelihood became severely diminished due to ban on trading; and it is increasingly difficult to find food in the households with no rice stock. To make matters worse, it is in the middle of cold winter season without even grass to feed on. Therefore, people would eventually die out of hunger. Those were the signs.

The North Korean authorities would have known all that. However, we have never heard of news saying solutions are in place. People’s patience seems to have reached the limit. In Danchun city, there was a mass protest led by old war veterans against the City Party calling for measures to deal with food shortage. People’s demand for food is likely to grow stronger since the number of people starving is increasing in other areas.

It is time to release relief rice without hesitation. The Great King Sejong, the most revered as the greatest king in Korean history, also started his rein by releasing relief rice. As soon as he was enthroned, he had to face 7-long years of drought and famine, so he set up a large kitchen in Kwanghwamoon 4-way intersection and ordered to cook rice porridge. The purpose was to feed anyone who passes by could eat at least one meal so that nobody could die of hunger. Although what’s needed is a long-term supply plan is necessary, this story demonstrates what should be done in order to help people to preserve their lives by releasing the relief rice.

Second, markets are allowed temporarily in some areas, but that should be expanded throughout the nation as soon as possible. The skyrocketing prices blown up out of proportion should be lowered by circulating rice and goods in the market, and people’s purchasing power needs to be restored. There is a saying in the Chinese classic, Suhkyung, “If people wish, then heaven delivers.” In other words, people’s determination to survive by trading in the market cannot be suppressed by force. The great Chinese king Soon also said, “The king’s throne will be lost forever if people’s lives become destitute.” This means the most important policy is to take care of people’s hunger, and that is the most natural thing to follow through.

The North Korean authorities must release food distribution first and prevent people from die of hunger. In addition, they should let people find means to survive on their own by allowing the market. They must seek external aid if the situation is deemed to be urgent. The measure North Korean government should take at this point is to feed the people by releasing the food through distribution and ask for external aid if what they have is not enough.
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