GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 335 March 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]
Staggering Increase of Starvation in Soonchun and Pyongsung
Pyongyang, the Aged Dying of Hunger and Exposure to Cold
More than 300 Die from and 1,000 Households at Risk of Starvation in Sinuiju

[Food]
Rice Price in Chungjin Soars to 800 NK Won; Exchange Rate as of March 2nd is 1 USD to 1,600 NK Won
Sungjin Steel Mill in Gimchaek Distributes Twice as Many Rations by Splitting One Portion of Grounded Corncob Meal into Two

[Economy]
Laborers in Kang-gye City Engage in Collective Absenteeism in Protest Saying, “Are you telling us to die?”
Laborers in Kang-gye Burglarized a Granary

[Politics]
Heungnam Police Arrests College Students for Distributing Information on Manufacturing Illicit Drugs

[Society]
Pyongyang First Department Store, Accident Occurred as People Flocked to Buy Goods at Government-Set Price
People still Flock to Store Despite the Notice of “Department stores to be closed until further notice.”

[Women/Children/Education]
Homeless Children Gather at Chungjin Station and Soonam Market

[Accidents]
Pyongyang Blackout Causes Traffic Chaos

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[Hot Topics]
Staggering Increase of Starvation in Soonchun and Pyongsung
Death by starvation occurring in Soonchun and Pyongsung, South Pyongan Province seems to be reaching a serious level. City Party officials are describing it as a record number of starvations since the Arduous March. Although the exact figures are not available, it is reported that thousands of people have died of hunger already during one month period beginning in the middle of January.
An official at Pyongsung City Party deplored the humanitarian situation, saying that “Soon it will be spring lean season in March and April – a period of severe food shortage when no rice harvested in preceding year was left nor is barley ripe for harvest --, and no prospect of action addressing the starvation would make it much worse. According to Pyongsung City Party, the death toll goes highest in Soonchun City across the country with Dukchun and Pyongsung following in second and third, respectively.

Pyongyang, the Aged Dying of Hunger and Exposure to Cold
The starvation during winter hits Pyongyang as well. It is not uncommon to see the aged lying on the street in Sunkyo, Sadong, and Soonahn district exhausted from their search for food. Passers-by just literally “pass them by.” In addition, there have been cases of the aged found dead overnight due to cold whether since January. According to the doctors who examined the scene, they died of mal-nutrition out of hunger and exposure to freezing cold during the night. The death of the aged, first found in Moonsoo Street in Daedong River in the middle of January, is spreading out to Sunkyo and Soonan district. Several homeless people were found dead in the bench alongside the Daedong River. They were frozen to death dozing off in the bench and suffering from cold with thin clothes and from hunger with barely one meal a day. On the other hand, things are better in Joong and Pyongchun district where no starvation has yet to be reported. Pyongyang City has not distributed any food since the 10-days worth of distribution on the Lunar New Year’s day in the beginning of February.

More than 300 Die from and 1,000 Households at Risk of Starvation in Sinuiju
The death toll of starving citizens is rising in the uptown of Sinuiju as well as South Sinuiju, North Pyongan Province. Since the beginning of February, Haebangdong, Baeksadong, Namsodong in Sinuiju have all been struck by citizens dying from starvation. According to the statistics of the City Party, as of February 20th, about three hundred people have died while more than 1,000 households do not have food and are at the risk of starvation. A worker at the City Party commented, "Given that more than 300 people have died in Sinuiju, where no one died from starvation even during the March to the Hardship, the situation is irreversible. When the hardship period has yet to arrive and the situation is this dire, it only shows that our country is slowly facing the end. If the situation of our city is as serious as this, then I can't imagine how South Hamgyong, Jagang, and Kangwon Provinces are coping." There is no news of starvation in Shimdong headquarters resided by provincial leaders and low-ranking laborers. They are not yet in a situation where their lives are threatened by a lack of food. At night, the headquarters and Sinwondong are brightly lit by electricity, while Hebangdong, Baeksadong, and Geunhwadong are dark; there is a stark difference in living conditions in these two areas. Without food, the residents of Sinuiju are spending longer winter nights, suffering from cold weather and starvation. A leader from the North Pyongan Province lamented, "Like Sinuiju, there is not a single area [in North Pyongan Province] unaffected by starvation."

[Food]
Rice Price in Chungjin Soars to 800 NK Won; Exchange Rate as of March 2nd is 1 USD to 1,600 NK Won
The price of rice has risen to 800 won in Chungjin, North Hamgyong Province. On January 10th, the price was 60 won; on 13th, it had tripled to 180 and kept rising to 240, then 280, 350, 500 and 650 won. In the end, it peaked at 1,100 won. In February, the price dropped slightly to 580 won, then continued to lower to 470 won, 450 won, and 400 won. The drop in price coincided with the resumption of market operations. As of March 2nd, the situation is still unstable and the price has risen once again to 800 won.
Along with price of a basic commodity like rice, the foreign currency exchange rate is also unstable. As economic confusion continues, residents are using only foreign currencies, rather than the newly redenominated North Korean won. Lack of confidence in the NKW has led to inflation and unpredictable fluctuations in the exchange rate. As of March 2nd, 1 USD was worth 1,600 won and 1 Chinese yuan was worth 250 won. Among the residents who prefer to use yuan as their currency of exchange, there is a rumor that the value may go up to 350 won. If the value of the foreign currency increases, the price of food and other necessities will also increase.

Sungjin Steel Mill in Gimchaek Distributes Twice as Many Rations by Splitting One Portion of Grounded Corncob Meal into Two
The period between January 5th and February 24th of this year has become known as a period of intense hardship for the workers at the Sungjin Steel Mill in Gimchaek City, North Hamgyong Province. Thirty-eight mill laborers died of hunger and more than 140 people were unable to go to work because they lacked anything to eat. As the laborers were starving to death, Sungjin Steel Mill increased the production of steel in order to trade the output for additional rations. However, since foreign trade had already come to a halt, mill authorities were not able to sell any steel to Chinese buyers and could not buy any additional food. From January 20th to 25th, the cafeteria provided corn noodles once or twice a day. Starting in February, it provided two meals a day by splitting 250 grams of grounded corncob meal into two portions. As the food situation at the steel mill has worsened, it has chosen to distribute rations 2-3 times a day by dividing one ration into 2-3 portions, preferring to hand out multiple meals no matter how small.


[Economy]
Laborers in Kang-gye City Engage in Collective Absenteeism in Protest Saying, “Are you telling us to die?”
An official of Jagang Provincial Party says Kang-gye city is no different from hell. Laborers there are forced to show up at work every day despite no provision. It is due to the pressure that the Gang-gye laborers need to set an example as the Central Party instigate people by saying they need to learn from ‘Gang-gye Spirit.’ However, faced with the extreme food shortage after the currency exchange measure, the laborers are expressing grievances explicitly saying, “We need to eat thin porridge at least so that we can show up at the factory,” and questioning “Are you telling us to live or to die?” Some laborers take collective action in protest by refusing to show up at work saying, “It’s no different whether I am beaten to death at police station for absence without notice or I starve to death, so I’ll just hold out to the last.” Not only in Jagang Province, but in other areas as well, public sentiment is worsening. Provincial level officials say publicly, “To resolve the current situation, there’s no other option than reaching out for help from China.”

Laborers in Kang-gye Burglarized a Granary
Inchul Park, a laborer at a foreign currency business in Kangkye, Jagang Province, and his family could not eat for several days. He was bedridden with a swollen body, which prevented him from even going outside. He had enough to live on because he was working for a foreign currency business. However, Park was faced with a food shortage problem for the first time when international trade was hit hard after the currency exchange reform. If he was going to die of hunger, Park decided he would do whatever he wanted to do. He thus conspired with several of his colleagues who were also suffering from food shortage, burglarized the granary managed by their foreign currency business, and shared the grains between them. However, they were all arrested the next day. The incident was reported to the Central Party, which sent three investigators. Although the burglary was not a small incident, it was obvious why it occurred. It happened because the laborers, who could not eat for several days, were looking for something to eat. The investigators also indicated that they fully understood the laborers’ circumstances. However, in order to maintain social order and show the dignity of law to residents, the laborers, including Park, were sentenced to death. Park was rather dignified in his bearing by saying, “What an indifferent world! The officials do not do anything for laborers who come to work every day without getting food rations and salaries, and who even die on lathe beds. They endlessly criticize laborers for their poor ideologies and lack of revolutionary ideas. However, the officials do not come up with any ideas to help laborers. Dead or alive, laborers are miserable human beings! But I will die a ghost with a full stomach.”

[Politics]
Heungnam Police Arrests College Students for Distributing Information on Manufacturing Illicit Drugs

On February 27th, the Heungnam City police, (located in South Hamgyong Province), arrested three third-year pharmacy college students for selling detailed descriptions on how to manufacture ‘ice’ (amphetamine). It is said that the instructions were so well written that an average person with no special knowledge of drugs could easily follow them, meaning their street value was as high as 50,000 NKW per copy. Thus far, more than 3,000 copies have been sold within South Hamgyong Province, as well as in Chungjin, South Pyongan Province, Pyongsung, and Soonchun. One Safety Bureau worker said, "This was a very malicious crime. Innocent people with no knowledge of drugs' evils could pick up this book and become curious about drugs." The students are likely to receive serious punishment.

[Society]
Pyongyang First Department Store, Accident Occurred as People Flocked to Buy Goods at Government-Set Price

Pyongyang First Department Store is selling limited quantities of detergent, tobacco, sweets and other goods at government-set prices. As the residents of Pyongyang can’t afford the skyrocketing prices in the market, they flock to Pyongyang First Department Store and the risk of accident is increasing. According to the rules, people are supposed to use a ticket to buy goods on the designated date specified on the ticket, but the quantities of goods are in short supply so customers were asked to come back in later dates. This created a chaotic situation where a large number of people came to the store at once regardless of the designated date. As a result, one person died in an accident caused by the crowd last January. When a large number of people were waiting in line, someone fell down because of carelessness and people behind fell down in chain reaction and a woman at the very end was crushed under them. She died at the scene and several others were injured and transferred to hospital.

People still Flock to Store Despite the Notice of “Department stores to be closed until further notice.”
On January 26, in major cities such as Pyongyang and Sinuiju, announcements were made through the Third Broadcasting stations that department stores in the cities will be closed for a while, so people should not knock on the door or wait in line. The district administrative offices tried to inform residents of this massage as well, but it didn’t work because markets were not allowed to open and every store was running out of goods at that time. Therefore, despite the notice that most state-run stores and foreign currency stores would be closed, costumers knocked the door from morning till night and some even broke the window. As people continuously flocked to the closed stores, guards had to be placed at the stores throughout the day and night.

[Women/Children/Education]
Homeless Children Gather at Chungjin Station and Soonam Market

Many inhabitants of Chungjin, North Hamgyong Province have been pushed onto the streets after having sold their homes. The younger population has been greatly impacted by this and there are children living in train stations with their families, or with other orphans who have been left behind by desperate parents. At waiting rooms of Chung-Jin Station, there are more than ten "families" of homeless children with numbers continuously rising. They have been crowding into these waiting rooms due to the cold weather, crouching in corners, laying or covering themselves in plastic, but are driven away by station officers. After railroad stations, the next popular place for the homeless is Soonam Market. Although the market has lost much of its vibrancy as a market place, it is one of the few places where food is present. So, many homeless people gather in this market. They travel in small groups and roam around Soonam Market during the day and camp around bonfires in corners of dumping grounds in efforts to survive daily.

[Accidents]
Pyongyang Blackout Causes Traffic Chaos

On January 8, much of Pyongyang City experienced traffic paralysis due to a citywide blackout causing much confusion in the streets. The buses, subway system, and the trolleys stopped running as early as 10 o'clock in the morning. In the case of the subway system, some cars stopped midway between stations, confining passengers for more than 2 hours. Initially unable to move an inch, only under the assistance of railway workers could the passengers safely escape along the railway and out of the tunnels. Despite all the confusion, some said that the subway cars were warmer than their homes so it was better to stay in the cars. While the railway workers wondered about the possible causes for the blackout, the people of Pyongyang, however, were questioning whether “disloyal peopley had caused the trouble".
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