GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 371 October 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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Delay in Flood Recovery in Soujin-ri
Flood Victims Leave Home, Seeking Help from Relatives after Halt of Food Supply
Delayed Construction of Shelters for Flood Victims in West coast
Children Suffering from the Flu during Early Cold Spell
Who is Responsible for the Aging War Veterans?
Veterans Committing Suicide to Avoid Burdening Their Children
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Delay in Flood Recovery in Soujin-ri
The recovery work from the flooding in neighboring areas of a collective farm in the Soujin-ri in Uiju County of North Pyongan Province has not been going well. In the case of the collective farm in Soujin-ri, the flood swept over crops (such as corn, sweet potatoes, and vegetables) and livestock (such as pigs, ducks, geese, and chickens). One fifth of the farms were completely or partially destroyed. Pillars from some of the houses were broken off and swept away, exposing their floors. Since farmhouses are made of mud, they easily collapse and become formless when there are heavy rains.

According to party officials in the county, the authority in charge had sent warnings about the heavy rains, but not many houses managed to move the kitchenware, appliances such as TVs and video players, food, and other possessions. As the heavy rains continued and the flood waters continued to climb, going from people’s knees to their thighs, many residents returned to their houses to save their belongings, which caused many of them to drown. Son Myunghee (alias), the head of a Neighborhood Unit, described the situation: “Those people who were saved by the Border Patrols barely survived but with no possessions. Nobody expected such heavy rain.”

Nothing was left after the flood swept over the area. Small land plots as well as larger farms were all damaged because of the flood. Members of the collective farm stated, “There is not enough food for the fall distribution, due to a lack of grain production.” People who lost their homes and assets including livestock due to the flood are powerless and frustrated. Although the collective farm and social service organizations have been building or repairing buildings for daycare centers and kindergartens, the lack of materials for construction, including cement, has been a problem.

The process of rebuilding houses, either half or completely destroyed, has also been slow. Although the government provided each house with 300 grams of cement for repairs, it’s not enough. The amount can only cover repairing the ondol, the floor heating system, and the kitchen wood-burning stove. Furthermore, there is no government support to farmers for construction materials other than cement. As a temporary measure, farmers are recycling the wood from destroyed houses and replacing the concrete blocks with soil mixed with sorghum. The government has provided a few pieces of clothing and blankets and small household items per household. However, it is far from satisfying the needs of the families since the government did not take into account the number of members per household.

Flood Victims Leave Home, Seeking Help from Relatives after Halt of Food Supply
Many households are resorting to sweet potatoes three times a day as their daily meals in the severely flood damaged areas of Loynggae-Li, Lyong woon –Li and Daewha-Li including Eujoo-gun. Most at risk are the households with children and the elderly. In the initial aftermath of the flood, the government provided flood victims with emergency food aid, but now, all aid has come to an end. The residents who have lost their homes and property from the heavy rains are experiencing difficulty in meeting basic needs, and the number of those leaving their homes to seek help from relatives is on the rise. The Central Government has ordered issuances of travel certificates, and in turn, the Regional Government is supplying travel certificate to allow them to be helped by relatives from further inland.

It is emphasized, even for the farmers, that if they can receive help from family relatives unaffected by the flood, they should do so. Even though this is usually a full mobilization period for the harvest season, the government’s permissiveness regarding travel reveals the serious threat this flood has posed to the livelihood of residents, not to mention the lack of crops to harvest. Since the government isn’t able to provide food to those affected, it’s at least allowing them to move around freely as a temporary solution.

In order to prepare for the expected shortage of food for the following year, residents are planting cabbage and radish, which they can mix and eat with other grains. They have overturned and plowed through the soil of the cornfields that have been destroyed by the heavy rains, and are planning to plant cabbage and radish in allotments of 700 pyung per household. For the next year, cabbage and radish are seen not only as supplementary food that they have traditionally been, but as a potential substitute for grains as a main staple, as it is too late in the season to plant grains. Supplying residents with plots, the Farm Management Council is actively encouraging cabbages and radish farming.

Delayed Construction of Shelters for Flood Victims in West Coast
Restoration in the flood-damaged area of the South Hwanghae Provincedue has been delayed due to a lack of building material. Restoration efforts for partially and totally destroyed homes in Oongjin Count, Baechun County and Ryongyeon County have been taking place for over a month, but the process is far from over. With the early arrival of cold weather, flood victims’ disappointment in restoration efforts is increasing. The County Party attributes the delayed recovery process to shortage in building materials and is asking for patience. As a consequence, residents have repaired the walls and roofs themselves, albeit imperfectly, and covered windows and doors with plastic sheets to prevent drafts. Those without access to plastic sheets have been forced to seek alternative materials. And those acutely suffering from food shortage cannot afford to start even thinking about building houses. Their only preparations for the winter are holes dug in the ground – a home consisting of a half dugout with a covering over it. In contrast, some government officials and those better off have moved into newly constructed houses and quickly settling in.

Children Suffering from the Flu during Early Cold Spell
There has been a sharp increase of people dying from the flu between mid September and mid October. In flood stricken areas in the West coast, children and elders are becoming particularly vulnerable as the temperature plummets. Starved and poor, families of the patients have difficulty paying for the medicine or give up treatment altogether. Infectious diseases like eczema and scabies broke out, and the number of victims of tetanus is also increasing. Local People’s hospitals and health officials of Emergency Prevention Command are only repeating that, while measures are needed to stop the diseases from spreading, it is difficult due to the lack of medicine.

Meanwhile, flood damage to the breadbasket areas exacerbated the already abysmal food situation. Farms in North and South Hwanghae Provinces, North Pyongan Province, and North and South Hamgyong Provinces are severely damaged by the recent heavy rain and lost most of the crops. Gangwon Province had the best corn crop in ten years, which ended up being damaged by landslides from the hills softened by the heavy rains. South Pyongan Province was fortunate to have no major damage and estimates an average harvest amount. In an attempt to prevent a soaring of food price and gouging, the Central Party banned sale and transportation of food nationwide, including by all trade companies and state enterprises.

Who is Responsible for the Aging War Veterans?
Korean War veterans, faced with threats to their survival from the stoppage of food distribution and lack of trade income in Pyeongseong, South Pyeongan Province, pleaded to the city council for relief.

Five war veterans including Kim Cheonil and Choi Myeonghak living in Jooraedong, Pyeongseong requested the city council to resume food distribution and provide substitute food to take care of the immediate hunger.

The veterans had been making a living by repairing shoes at a factory. Since the currency reform, they have had less work. The reduced workload has worsened the food situation, and they complained it was becoming harder to work due to hunger and asked for the party's assistance.

The city council members responded that food would be distributed and the veterans should return home and wait. After waiting a month since the veterans spoke to the council in August, they went to the party council of South Pyeongan province in September to raise the matter again.

"We've never suffered this much even before the war ended. But we're about to die because we can’t even grow corn in the modern 21st century," cried the veterans.

The Pyeongseong city council requested that the province council handle the issue. The province councils (including that of Pyeongseong) only frowned upon the request, saying that the council cannot give to some and not to others when everyone is in the same situation and they are being flooded by similar pleas.

This type of requests was rare before the currency reform, but inquiries have rapidly increased this year. The province councils do not have the capacity to respond to them.

The disagreement between the city council and the province council even led to shouting match arguing who is responsible for the war veterans.

Eventually, the city council gave up on receiving support from the province council and contacted the city food policy sector, ordering that it distribute ten days’ worth of food for war veterans, exceptional laborers, and the elderly pensioners.

Due to the shortage of corn, the city food policy sector was only able to distribute a mixed ration of half barley and half potatoes to barely meet the order.

Veterans Committing Suicide to Avoid Burdening Their Children
Suicide rates for destitute veterans wishing to avoid burdening their children are rising in Pyongsung and other places in South Pyongan Province. There have been over seven cases reported to the provincial party just in the last two months. Of course, those who have starved to death far outnumber the suicides. After the currency reform, young people are at least eking out a living but the elderly are just waiting to die. Their physical conditions make them unfit for working in the market. Due to extreme malnutrition, many old people are susceptible to death from common ailments, such as the cold or even diarrhea. Veterans who are over the age of 70 are feeling desperate as one veteran has expressed, “After the currency reform, living conditions have worsened and I am tired of living like this. I wish I could die quietly in my sleep.” A veteran cried as he said, “I want to die, but cannot when I think of my poor children. I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place.”

The government had at one time provided special benefits and reserved the utmost respect for the veterans and people who have distinguished themselves with service to their country. However, with the discontinuation of the daily distribution of 600g of food, veterans are unable to even afford 1-Kg of rice on their monthly pensions of 1,000 won each. This is causing widespread disappointment and resentment among the group. Older veterans have strongly expressed their disappointment. “I fought for my country when I was young and what is the reward for my sacrifice?” Another claimed, “In light of the desperate economic situation, who would devote their lives to a country that is not able to provide for the most basic human needs? Who would be willing to continue guarding the Dear Leader with a do-or-die spirit?” Jeong, Ho-sung (alias), living in Pyongsung, cynically stated, “This country does not care about its old veterans any longer so we don’t expect any changes from whoever becomes the next leader.”


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