GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 375 (Priority Release) November 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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Rice Price Drops at the News of Lifting Rice Support Obligations
Upon Arrival of Food from China, Food is Distributed to Each County.
Raise in Pay Next Year
Significant Improvement in Electrical Power Conditions since October
“Now that we have electricity, it’s like drinking the nectar of the gods”
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Rice Price Drops at the News of Lifting Rice Support Obligations
As of November 7, market price of grains is going down at the news of lifting of military rice remittance obligations. Rice and corn prices were 920 NKW/kg and 200 NKW/kg a couple of days ago but they quickly fell to 800 NKW/kg and 150 NKW/kg. As the food prices fell, diesel fuel and gasoline prices also dropped to reach 800 NKW/kg and 1800 NKW/kg respectively. Exchange rate is currently 300 NKW/Yuan and is expected to drop to as low as 170 NKW/Yuan shortly. The markets are open from 1 pm to 6 pm.

Upon Arrival of Food from China, Food is Distributed to Each County.
In addition to the lifting of mandatory rice and meat support obligations to the military, large quantities of food have been coming in from China; as such, the market price of rice has been falling. 5 trucks loaded with 80 tons of corn entered the border region and the corn has been distributed to each county. More food is coming from China. As the Central Party announced that rice and meat will not be collected for the military, the farmers are pleased for the first time in a long time with smiles appearing across their lean and wrinkled faces. It is also reported that laborers will get food and wages on time, and housewives will no longer be treated as “#26 recipients.”

“#26 recipients” refer to those who are of working age but do not work and live on provision. Daily provision amounts to 300g a day, which equals to what a kindergartener receives. Women in neighborhood units are happy at the news because that means that they will be getting equal amount of food as regular laborers.

Chung Mi Hwa (alias) expressed joy to be treated as an adult even if the provision may not come out regularly as promised. As the market price of rice falls, people are being hopeful and say “if I work a little bit harder, I can make ends meet.”

Raise in Pay Next Year
Since Ruling Party Conference ended, the overdue wages have been paid out in order to ensure the people’s minimum living welfare. The average monthly wage of laborers is between 1,500 and 2,000 NKW. Skilled workers get paid an additional 200 to 300 NKW. In the past, laborers did not rely on monthly payroll. They couldn’t make a living based on such a small amount and were only paid a few times throughout the year in any case. Under such circumstances they tried to survive by farming small land patches or selling raw materials from factories rather than simply waiting for unpaid wages to arrive. However, optimism is now spreading among workers rapidly as the overdue wages are paid out all at once and a pay raise is expected next year.

Significant Improvement in Electrical Power Conditions since October
North Korea’s electricity supply has begun to show a sign of improvement since the Ruling Party Conference on September 28 and the celebration of the 65th anniversary of the Party’s Foundation on October 10. Pyongyang City has bore the most witness to this welcome change. People have expressed their joy by saying that, unlike the limited and sporadic increase in electricity supply during previous holiday seasons, this recent improvement has been consistent enough and well received. They claimed that it even brought forth a holiday spirit among them. As the public energy situation has taken a positive turn since the beginning of October, people have been able to enjoy more than four hours of uninterrupted electricity everyday for the first time this year. One of the Central government officials stated, “On October 6, the General had observed the early morning streets of Pyongyang City and remarked the streets were too dark. He said ‘Do Pyongyang residents still have difficulties regarding electricity? Residents should be allotted with sufficient electricity, even if that would cause deactivation of one or two factories’”. The explanation indicates there was a consideration for the people at the Party level.

The electricity supply has been improved by better utilization of hydroelectric and coal-fired thermal power plants. North Korean government officers also said that the improvement is due to “the reservoirs at hydroelectric power plants that are now full”. Sufficient amounts of water to operate hydropower facilities was a result of major Aprok (Yalu) River flooding, albeit it also resulted in serious flood damages. Without plentiful rain fall, Jangjin River and Bujeon River hydropower plants have the reservoir capacity to produce energy for at least 2-3 years, while Sinuiju and Supoong hydropower plants havae the capacity for only one year. The Supoong facility generates 700,000-800,000 KWH and half of the electricity is distributed to China and the other half to North Korea. Jangjin and Bujeon plants together generate 400,000-500,000 KWH. The improvement of coal-fired power plants operation also contributed to the better electricity supply. Pyongyang and Bookchang coal-fired plants together produce an average of 1,200,000 KWH due in part to small-scale resumption of coal production at Anju coal mine.

“Now that we have electricity, it’s like drinking the nectar of the gods”
Electricity supply for the public also improved significantly in Ryanggang Province. Residents of Ryanggang say in unison that the progress is due to the Mt. Baekdu Military First Power Plant. The Military First Plant was built on the backs of young men who had to carry rocks and sands on their backs. Most of the young members of special labor brigade joined the construction project to escape poverty and are from underprivileged background, although some volunteered to join the brigade as their entry into the Party. The residents hence call the Plant as “a plant that underprivileged young people, disenfranchised party officials and starving soldiers built with their bare hands at the risk of their lives” and are grateful to the plant for providing a normal supply of electricity around the clock. As the power supply normalized, plants and public enterprises resumed full operation and farms are threshing grains with ease. Residents are also processing food conveniently. Before, women had to thresh barely, corn or rice manually by putting it into a large mortar and pounding it repeatedly. Now they can crush corn without much effort. Hwang Soonock (alias) from Hyesan City who came out to a threshing floor to make crushed corn says with a big smile, “(thanks to the electricity) it’s became so convenient. It’s as if I’m drinking the nectar of the gods.”
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