GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 339 April 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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Announcement: Good Friends will not be releasing its weekly publication, North Korea Today, for one month in April to take the much needed time for reorganization. We will resume the publication after the break with new improvements. We appreciate your interests and support for NKT. Good Friends will continue to do the best it can to help North Korean people’s voice be heard as accurately as possible and to serve as a foundation for peaceful reunification of Korea.Thank you. Good Friends USA
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[Hot Topics]
Rice Price Drops Temporarily Due to Regulations by 100:1 Enforcement Agents
Drop of Foreign Currency is Linked to Falling Rice Price
Large Factories Provide Rations by Selling Pig Iron, Influencing Drop in Rice Price

[Food]
People Die of Starvation Everyday in Sinuiju

[Economy]
Experts inside North Korea said “The wrong policy causes a couple of million dollar loss every day”.

[Politics]
Central Party Security Groups Dispatched to National Border Area to Confiscate Mobile Phones

[Society]
Conscription this Year, “Girls Taller than 155cm to be Drafted without Exception”
Fishermen Lament Being Regarded as Means of Earning Money, rather than Husbands

[Women/Children/Education]
North Hamgyong Province, Junior High School Moves to Hoeryong from Chungjin

[Accidents]
Security Agent Murdered While Trying to Confiscate a Cell Phone in Hoeryong City

[Investigative Report]
What is meant by “Every Price Must Be Converted at the Rate of 100:1?”
__________________________________________________________
[Hot Topics]
Rice Price Drops Temporarily Due to Regulations by 100:1 Enforcement Agents

On March 30th, the price of rice plummeted from 700 NKW/kg to 140 NKW/kg in Dangsang Market of Mangyundae area, Pyongyang City. It is not the only commodity affected. For example, the price of corn dropped from 400-500 NKW per kilogram to 40 NKW, or roughly 1/10 of the previous price. The prices are going down in other regions as well. On the same day, rice was 200 NKW per kilogram and corn was 68 NKW per kilogram in Haeju City of South Hwanghae Province. In Hoeryong City of North Hamgyong Province, rice was 250 NKW and corn was 80 NKW. The wholesale sellers of food believe that the price of rice dropped from 700-800 NKW per kilogram to 200 NKW on average nationwide because of the regulations by 100:1 standing committee, not because of an increase in rice supply. From March 16th to 18th, one member of the cabinet was dispatched in each county to exercise an intense control of the market.

On March 29th, the Leading Secretaries of city and county parties, the chairman of People’s Assembly, and the chief officers from Safety Bureau and trade officers gathered and held a meeting to discuss ways to stabilize the recent prices of food and goods. The meeting announced the following: “Since the enforcement of this economic policy (the currency exchange) of the nation, people’s standard of living has been lowered drastically because goods and food were not circulated, therefore aggravating public sentiment every day. In order to rectify this, an organization work must be enforced, and each city and county must dedicate itself in reinforcing the control and diligently performing the duty of supervising 100:1 standing committee members. The task of regulating the price of goods as was directed by the state must be finished by April 1st. In order to eliminate the fluctuation of price, the value of foreign currency must be dropped and the value of state currency (North Korean won) must be enhanced. People can enjoy stable life only after the price is under control.”

Drop of Foreign Currency is Linked to Falling Rice Price
While the 100:1 standing committee is expected to stabilize the prices, some experts inside North Korea predict that rice price cannot be stabilized by the work of the committee because its role is only a temporary measure. Some say that the reason for the fall of rice price is not because of 100:1 standing committee, but because of dropping foreign currency. The currency exchange rate was 2,300 NKW per USD on March 4th and it came down to 500 NKW as of March 30th. Exchange rate of US dollar is set in Sinuiju, not in Pyongyang. The sudden dropping of USD exchange rate was due to releasing of government hoarded USD into the market by allowing individuals to purchase it using new NK currency. While this fall of USD exchange rate has helped price of rice and other necessities to fall, some argue, this effect is only temporary and not an ultimate solution. Despite the price fall, the rice is still too expensive for people without money to afford. Also, without a large supply of food from outside, the price would rise again shortly because there is not so much food available inside North Korea.

Large Factories Provide Rations by Selling Pig Iron, Influencing Drop in Rice Price
Currently, rations have only been distributed in Pyongyang for the month of March. In Hamheung, Chungjin and Wonsan, large factories provided food to their laborers by selling pig iron and machines. Therefore, laborers in large factories are not purchasing food from markets due to these provisions, which may have caused downward pressure on rice prices in areas outside of Pyongyang. As of April 1, the rice supply had not reached its maximum, which means that rice prices did not fall due to imports from China or due to hoarded rice released in the markets by individuals, whom safety authorities have already inspected. Therefore, there is no reason for the food situation to improve at the moment.

[Food]
People Die of Starvation Everyday in Sinuiju

People continue to die of starvation at a steady rate in Sinuiju, North Pyongan Province. Countless civilians have been dying due to malnutrition since January in Rakwon 1-2 Dong and Rakchung 1-2 Dong, city of South Sinuiju, where the Rakwon Mechanics Union Company is located. The exact number of deaths is uncertain, but it is estimated to have mounted to 3,000. About half of the population of Sinuiju is being sustained on corn gruel, and still many have nothing. The head of each of the neighborhood units reports the deaths to the village office, who then reports them to the police station. However, they are not permitted to state malnutrition as the cause of the deaths. The heads of the units are under strict surveillance to prevent the word of starvation to spread. The residents of Sinuiju are gravely concerned about the consequences that will follow if the food supply remains at its low level going into mid April. The situation is no better in Dukchun, South Pyongan Province, Kangye, Jagang Province, and Wonsan, Kangwon Province, where many people have been dying of starvation as well.

[Economy]
Experts inside North Korea said “The wrong policy causes a couple of million dollar loss every day”.

“First, after the currency reform, the NK government set the rice price 44 NKW per 1kg of rice. This was the first problem. After the 7.1 economic measures, the price became 44 NKW/kg which was 0.08 NKW beforehand. Even after currency reform, the price was still fixed at 44 NKW/kg. This is against the market price of the rice which was around 25-30 NKW/kg at that time. Thus, the market price skyrocketed up to 100 NKW/kg, 120 NKW/kg, 500NKW/kg, and even to 1,400 NKW/kg around early March. This was the first reason why the wrong policy created confusions in the market.
Second, banning foreign currency exchange since Jan 1st, 2010 was another problem. North Korea doesn’t produce a lot of industrial products and mainly import them. In addition, the domestic currency was very unstable. The banning of foreign currency exchange was announced under these circumstances so the entire commercial circulation halted. What this means is prohibiting raw materials and other base products from being supplied. Eventually, many people died of hunger and the entire nation was put in crisis.
Third, although official exchange rate was set at 30 NKW per USD, the actual price in the market was evaluated at 98.35 NKW per USD. This caused the price of goods to skyrocket and the NK currency to fall. Because of this, those who had US dollars did not go to the bank to exchange money, but to the black market. Thus, the bank has had loss of a couple of million dollars everyday.”

[Politics]
Central Party Security Groups Dispatched to National Border Area to Confiscate Mobile Phones

Central Party Security Groups composed of national security guards were sent to the national border area, including Sinuiju of North Pyongan Province. This year’s inspection in Sinuiju was much stronger than that of previous years. This year’s main focus is illegal mobile phones. Mobile phones sold at state-run stores do not function to make calls to Pyongyang or China, therefore exempt from the inspection. Instead, those who possess phones that are capable of making calls to Pyongyang and China are being severely punished. In previous years, $300 to $500 dollars of bribe was enough to be let off, but this year, victims must pay fines and are banished. Such severe punishments are due to the worry that national security information would flow out. There have been some Chinese descendents turning themselves in at the intricate inspection that involved banishing not only potential spies but also merchants who contacted China through their mobile phones. Such actions are due to the notion that if one turns him or herself in, the fault would be erased and no fines would be collected. In neighborhood unit meetings, there have been advertisements encouraging people to turn themselves in.

[Society]
Conscription this Year, “Girls Taller than 155cm to be Drafted without Exception”
The Department of Military Mobilization begins conscription, targeting graduates of middle school (equivalent of 12th grade graduates) on April 15th. The Military Recruitment Division of the People’s Defense Ministry issued a command to “enlist more male recruits and to recruit females as well if there are not enough boys” to city and provincial military mobilization departments nationwide. The order also directs to conscribe those females taller than 155cm without exception, by giving strong ideological education to those who are not interested. The recruitment was extended to females because the number of people subject to enlistment is small in the first place. Children of railroad-related workers are allowed to work as railroad laborers instead of joining the army.

Fishermen Lament Being Regarded as Means of Earning Money, rather than Husbands
As life becomes tougher, fishermen from the east coast in North Hamgyong Province complain that they are disrespected by their peers since their families disrespect them. Kwanyong Kim, who works at Fisheries Enterprise in Chungjin City, North Hamgyong Province, said “It is an old story that I was respected as a husband or head of household, and now I am just an instrument to make money. It might sound preposterous but there is another story.” He then recounted a story. “A man came back from a month of fishing at sea and he gathered his family members together in order to drink and relax with them. One day, as the current became optimal for fishing, his wife carried her sleeping husband in a wagon to a wharf and boarded him on his ship. The man was unconscious, but soon became confused when he woke up at sea. This phenomenon has occurred in other countries as well. “For example, in Russia, Seokjoong Park (alias) was arrested by Russian guards for trespassing on the sea-border line. He said, “I was imprisoned in a trailer where I could not eat properly and even wash my face.” When Russia released those who had illegally crossed the border, the Security Department asked the man's family to pay the cost of fuel for the ship to transport him back to North Korea. His family and employer declined to pay the fees. As a result, the fisherman then lost will to live, or earn money for his family. Fortunately, the firm that employed him did pay for the fuel, but he was traumatized by the experience.

[Women/Children/Education]
North Hamgyong Province, Junior High School Moves to Hoeryong from Chungjin

The First Junior High School in Chungjin, North Hamgyong Province, has been closed down and Kim Ki-Song Junior High School in Hoeryong city will be turned into the new First Junior High School. The school closing and relocation is one of many strategies to make Hoeryong City, the hometown of Kim Jung-Suk, a better place. Because of the school closing, academically high ranked students and the children of officials have been transferring to Kim Ki-Song Junior High School since April 1. The provincial education department ordered Hoeryong City officials to take care of the students who have transferred from other cities and counties. Despite official support for the school closing, the officials considered the First Junior High School’s move to Hoeryong City to be a burden. As the children of provincial party and police officials have moved to the Hoeryong, the cost of their education must come out of the city party budget. On the other hand, the teachers of the First Junior High School are expecting their financial situation to improve. Since the incoming class is comprised of 70% high officials’ children and 30% children of wealthy families, the teachers are looking forward to steady support from their parents. Teachers, thinking of the extra money such parents could offer, are eager to begin teaching at the new junior high school. They consider the closing of the First Junior High School and the repurposing of the Kim Ki-Song Junior High School to be a stroke of good luck.

[Accidents]
Security Agent Murdered While Trying to Confiscate a Cell Phone in Hoeryong City

In Secheon-Dong, Hoeryong City, North Hamgyong Province, a worker at the local Grain Policy Enterprise has been arrested for the murder of a security agent who was trying to find illegal cell phone users. After an investigation, it came to light that the worker, Kim Kyung-chul, had begged the agent not to report his possession of a cell phone. Mr. Kim said that he had needed the phone to communicate with his brother in China. When the agent persisted in his threat to report Mr. Kim, the worker, knowing the punishment for possession of cell phone, killed the agent with a hatchet.
Three days after the murder, investigators looking into the disappearance of the agent found out that Mr. Kim was the last person to see him alive. Mr. Kim had already burned the body and hidden it in the sewage of the local railway company office. The city security department interrogated Mr. Kim and his wife, who denied the allegations and claimed that they had seen the agent leave their home. Eventually, after interrogating Mr. Kim and his wife, along with his younger brother, the city security department was able to get a confession for the murder from Mr. Kim.
A day after recovering the body, the employees at the City Party, police, and security departments attended a funeral ceremony paid for by the grain policy enterprise that had employed Mr. Kim. Along with Mr. Kim, his wife, and his brother, the security department also arrested his mother and three-year-old son. The family was sent to the “22nd Unit” labor detention center for killing the security agent. The City Party confiscated his house and property. Because this incident is the first homicide case of a security agent, it is rumored that not only Mr. Kim’s immediate family but both sides of his extended family will also be punished.
The City Security Department made a suggestion to Central Party and issued a formal resolution that it would crack down on possession of illegal cell phones in Hoeryong City. To this end, the Security Department launched a campaign in Hoeryong City to make people voluntarily report their possession of any cell phones between April 15th and the Day of the Sun (the birthday of Kim Il Sung).

[Investigative Report]
What is meant by “Every Price Must Be Converted at the Rate of 100:1.”

Recently, the North Korean government has formed a “100:1 Standing Committee” in an attempt to manipulate all the prices. Let’s try to understand the meaning of government’s directives saying, “Every price must be converted at the rate of 100:1.”

1. The problem with a fixed government price
The fixed prices established by the government for rice before the Arduous March was 8 jeon (0.08 NKW) per kg. The monthly salary of a typical laborer was about 100 NKW which was sufficient to buy one ton of rice. However, the price of rice after Arduous March increased to around 80 NKW per kg. The price of rice rose to the level of one month's salary, and the official price of 8 jeon was merely a nominal figure. Subsequently, food distribution and wages were discontinued. Individuals who were excluded from the government distribution system met their needs through peddling at the market and small patch farming. Rice sold in the market became a luxury item for ordinary residents.

2. The North Korean government attempted to narrow the gap between the official price and the market price through the 7.1 Economic Management Improvement measures in 2002. As the prices of commodities rose exponentially the government raised the average monthly salary of laborers from 100 to 2,500 NKW, a 25-fold increase, giving more purchasing power to the laborers. The unrealistic rice price of 8 jeon (0.08 NKW) was raised 550 times to 44 NKW which was about half the price of market price, to make it more realistic.

The level of salary adjustment was not even close to that of rice price adjustment, but the extra purchasing power obtained provided some market stability temporarily. However, the workers' increased purchasing power combined with the absence of an adequate supply of goods triggered inflation. The price of rice increased steadily, surpassing 4,000 NKW during the lean spring season in 2008, then fell back to 2,000 NKW level, which is about equal to one month's salary right before the currency exchange measure.

3. Attempts to make prices more realistic through currency regulations
The North Korean government carried out a currency revaluation at a 100:1 ratio. In contrast to the 7.1 Economic Management Improvement measures in 2002, the face value of monthly salaries was kept at 2,000 to 3,000 NKW and lowered all the prices to 1/100 level. With the circulation of the new currency, the North Korean government declared an officials price for rice at 44 jeon (0.44 NKW per kg). This is 1/100 (one percent) of the previous price of 44 NKW. The distribution price of rice for supporting a family is kept at 44 NKW as before. Although the face value is the same, supporting family members have to purchase food at a price that is 100 times more expensive.

4. New government prices are creating confusion in the market
The distribution price of rice was 44 NKW when the official government prices were announced, but merchants at the market were still applying the 100 to 1 ratio following the currency exchange ratio. The rice price prior to currency exchange was between 1,800 and 2,000 NKW, and the trading price in the market was between 19 and 20 NKW. The North Korean government issued directives saying, “Do not consider prices in terms of 100 to 1. Follow the new government-set prices.” However, because of delays in the public announcement of prices the trading prices at the market tend to follow the before currency exchange price of 1 to 100 level. As a result, residents ignored the government order because the government distribution price was more expensive than the market price.

5. New inflation, issuance of 100 to 1 directive
The currency exchange measure did not solve the imbalance between supply and demand and contained fundamental contradictions. The situation where the market price was lower than the distribution price did not last more than a few days. Prices skyrocketed and the foreign currency exchange rate also fluctuated. Farmers with money in their hand are holding on to grains in preparation of the spring lean season. Merchants in the market are waiting for prices to go up again. The distribution of food and wages promised by the government was soon suspended, and death by starvation caused by food shortages began spreading among the urban labor class.

The ongoing rise of prices and foreign currency will continue because there is no external supply and receipt of foreign aid is very unlikely. While the price of rice was set at 23 NKW on December 9 the value of new currency is dropping continuously, death by starvation is occurring throughout the country, and antagonism against government policy is strong in areas with a high concentration of laborers. The problem will get worse unless commodity prices are lowered by official means.

North Korean authorities had to create the 100 to 1 standing committee and dispatch enforcement agents throughout the country. The agents are responsible for limiting the prices of goods traded in the market within the set prices. The ceiling price for rice is 25 NKW per kg (as of February 1, 2010). This is the highest price among the various trading prices in the market before the currency exchange measure was announced. This is an attempt to embrace the market price prior to the currency exchange measure in order to stabilize the market and calm people’s anxiety, but it is a band-aid approach to solving the problem.

North Korea Today No. 338 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.]
__________________________________________________________
[Hot Topics]
“Every Price Must Be Converted at the Rate of 100:1,” Central Party Directs
The Foremost Commerce of the Country Is Food,” Central Party Emphasizes Again

[Food]
March Food Distribution Completed in Pyongyang
Food Shortage Crisis in N. Hwanghae Province Worsens, Worst for Laborers

[Economy]
Foreign Currency Unstable, Rice Price Plunges

[Politics]
Police Authorities Across the Country to Remain High Alert to Any Sign of Commotion

[Society]
Reduction in Bus Service from Chungjin to Hoeryong
Lecture in Neighborhood Unit, Sinuiju: hoof-and-mouth Disease is Reported in S. Pyongan Province

[Women/Children/Education]
Young Students in Sinuiju Mobilized to Plant a Field of Fruit Trees

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[Hot Topics]
“Every Price Must Be Converted at the Rate of 100:1,” Central Party Directs

The Central Party directed that the Cabinet adjust prices so that, “every price be converted at the rate of 100:1.” The Central Party changed its stance because it would previously announce to the people through various seminars that “the goods are not to be traded at the rate of 100:1 simply because the currency was exchanged at the rate of 100:1.” In the beginning of currency exchange, people traded goods by converting at the rate of 100:1 and response was favorable because the value of the money increased as well. However, the authorities had delivered instructions that the goods should not to be traded by converting at the rate of 100:1. It was intended to stabilize the market price by setting a government declared standard price. However, contrary to this intention, the price skyrocketed. Because there was no food in the market, starvation became a major problem. Therefore, in March, the Party made a decision to set the price at the converted rate of 100:1. During the first Cabinet meeting, it was said that, “the price had some tenfold increase than the government-set price, which led to dishonesty on the part of the government. The price should be at the rate of 100:1 as people initially recognized and the management and organization of national enterprises should follow the same path.” In the second meeting, it was decided that every Cabinet Office must organize a “small group to guide the price of 100:1” and dispatch them to each city and county. Pursuant to this instruction, the City and County Parties have decided to enforce the instructions and regulations to execute the price of 100:1 by electing a People’s Assembly and security members. The 100:1 Standing Committee of the Central Party sent an education outline, which could guide the price of 100:1 to City and County Parties nationwide. Each City and County Party educated the members of the 100:1 Standing Committee according to the material during March 16th and 18th. Currently, the patrol members are out in each market attempting to regulate the prices.

The Foremost Commerce of the Country Is Food,” Central Party Emphasizes Again
The Central Party conducted a meeting with the Cabinet officers regarding “how to immediately improve the lives of people.” The Central Party emphasized that, “the largest and most important commerce of the country is food” and repeatedly directed that “the importing of food must not be limited, regardless of the country it comes from, and that every source of commerce within the nation must be mobilized to prepare food.”

[Food]
March Food Distribution Completed in Pyongyang
The recent food imports from China were used to complete the first-half and the second-half March food distributions in Pyongyang. The ratio of rice to corn for the first-half March food distribution was five to five; for the second-half March distribution, the ratio was changed to four to six. A father and a son, who work at the National Science Institute in Pyongyang, were supposed to receive 700g of food but received 450g instead, just over half of the original amount. When calculated, the 450g of food they received a day for 15 days amounts to 6.75kg of food for each. A housewife was supposed to get 300g, but actually only received half the usual amount. She received an amount of 2.25kg of food for 15 days. In total, this three-member family received 15.75kg of grains. Although the ratio of rice to corn changed from the beginning to the end of the month, the family received a total amount of 31.50 kg of food, proving that the food situation has gotten better. However, residents in other parts of the country did not receive anything other than corn powder from the February 16 holiday distribution.

Food Shortage Crisis in N. Hwanghae Province Worsens, Worst for Laborers
The number of deaths due to starvation has been increasing in the areas of Sariwon, Hwang-Ju, Seo-Heung, and Bong-San County. In farming areas, there are households with less than 2 to 3 months worth of food after supplying for military food sources. However, they are better off than laborers who earn a day’s wage and survive through the day. This is because farmers who remember the food crisis in 2008 have some crops in their hands. Furthermore, due to the cash they received from the last currency exchange, farmers do not need to sell their crops. On the other hand, laborers have limited cash, there aren’t sufficient crops in the market, and the grains are too costly for laborers, making the situation more difficult for them to alleviate. Due to the lack of public distribution of foods, most households that purchase food eat ground corncob porridge or noodles. In addition, increasing number of people are experiencing swollen faces, feet, and hands or lack of strength to go to work because of lack of nutrition caused by their on-and-off meals. Moreover, the level of fear among residents is increasing as murder and robbery cases occur one after another. All over North Hwanghae Province, it is difficult to see people in the street after 7 pm.

[Economy]
Foreign Currency Unstable, Rice Price Plunges

After rations were distributed in March in Pyongyang, rumors circulated about rice coming into the market soon, causing the price of food began to sharply decrease on the third week of March. In the first week of March, the price remained at 800 to 850 NKW, then down to 680 NKW on the 15th, and 300 NKW on the 20th. Chungjin, a city located in the North Hamgyong Province, had prices up to 1,400 NKW per kg on the 5th, then plummeted to 450 NKW on the 20th (See Chart 1). The foreign currency prices are also unstable with continuous fluctuations. On March 4th, the exchange rate was 2,300 NKW per dollar, then it went down to 1,500 NKW on the 9th, 1,450 NKW on the 12th, 1,300 NKW on the 14th, 800 NKW on the 19th, then finally 400 NKW on the 20th. However, as of the March 22, it rose up to 700 NKW, showing unsteadiness in the market (See Chart 2).













[Politics]
Police Authorities Across the Country to Remain High Alert to Any Sign of Commotion
The Central Party ordered all police bureaus to stay alert against public unrest, particularly in the big cities. At the first sign of public unrest following the currency reform, the police were ordered to be on alert for 24 hours. As the living conditions worsen for residents and the number of death by starvation rises, distrust of the government is now at an all-time high. Safety Bureau is being extremely vigilant about any change that can be translated into symptom of violence.
War veterans in Sinuiju County in the North Pyongan Province are protesting to the City and Provincial Parties of hunger. In Danchun and Pyongsung, the war veterans continue to complain persistently, albeit peacefully, because the Party prohibits any demonstrations and other gatherings to deter any escalation of tension in society. In Soomoon Dong and Minpo Dong, which are considered areas of sever poverty, hunger keeps children from attending school. Instead, the children roam the streets looking for food. In Kangye, Wonsan, and Hamheung, the situation is so bad that people are worried that the streets will soon be full of dead bodies. As hunger and starvation stir up anger, police in those areas are staying extremely alert.

[Society]
Reduction in Bus Service from Chungjin to Hoeryong

After the currency redenomination negatively affected business, bus service between Chungjin and Hoeryong was also reduced. While the bus used to run six times a day, these days it runs only twice a day. Even with the reduced service, there are occasions when the bus sits idle for lack of passengers. The rising price of fuel and a lack of gasoline have also resulted in periodic disruptions in bus service. As the number of bus in service decreases to a large degree, the price of a bus ticket continues to rise. A bus ride that cost only 600 won in February costs 1,500 won starting on the first of March.

Lecture in Neighborhood Unit, Sinuiju: hoof-and-mouth Disease is Reported in S. Pyongan Province
Hoof-and-mouth disease has broken out in various areas of South Pyongan Province. Although it originally affected domestic animals, some people have showed symptoms of the disease. The Neighborhood Unit reported to residents that the disease came from foreign countries.

[Women/Children/Education]
Young Students in Sinuiju Mobilized to Plant a Field of Fruit Trees

Local middle school students in Sinuiju of Pyongan Province, have been ordered to cultivate a field of fruit trees at a nearby chicken meat packing plant. On March 19, 2009 young students were mobilized, without being fed lunch on a rainy day. They were directed to “dig a trench”, in other words to dig a hole 5 meters deep; however, the work was difficult because the ground was stony. Students have to pay 600 NK won for a roundtrip-bus fare in order to get the workplace and they can only take two lunch boxes. On the fourth day of working they were exhausted. Daily Labor(“일공노동”) is scheduled for 8 hours a day. It is too hard for adults so the children are not allowed to do it; therefore, young students are mobilized in the morning and return to their home after working for a short time in the afternoon. But this Daily Labor(“일공노동”) assigned to students has made them exhausted within a few days. Parents of working households were ordered to provide 200kg and those from supporting households to provide 250kg of gravel, which will be used to pave a road. If they can’t afford to do, they have to pay 4000-5000 NK Won, or 20 NK Won per kg. There is a second task of carrying out human manure. Each family has been assigned to carry out two tones of human manure. They have to pay money if they can’t meet their assigned target. Starving children and parents have protested against the imposition of the burdensome assignment.

North Korea Today No. 337 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.]
__________________________________________________________
[Hot Topics]
Business in Pyongsung Has Been Hit the Hardest Due to the Blocking of International Trade
Starvation in a Cosmetics Manufacturing Factory in Sinuiju
Order to "Only Import Rice" Received with Much Disagreement

[Food]
Number of Households Dying of Hunger in Chungjin Rapidly Increasing
Gimchaek Steel Mill Makes Food Distribution to Workers in March

[Economy]
Foreign Currency Rate Drops Temporarily Since the Second Week of March
Merchants at Soonam Market Challenge Market Control
Only Police Officers are Gained by Strict Control of the Market

[Politics]
Hoeryong, “Do not roam around unnecessarily after 7pm”
ChungJin, Helpless at the Continuous Occurrence of Murder Cases

[Society]
“Do Not Get food from Someone Else’s House”
The Poor Need Help, but Everyone is in the Same Situation

[Women/Children/Education]
Many Children Abandoned in front of Hamheung City Orphanage

[Accidents]
Two Pyongyang Residents Murdered at Wonsan Station

[Investigative Report]
Four Reasons Causing Deaths by Starvation in 2010


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[Hot Topics]
Business in Pyongsung Has Been Hit the Hardest Due to the Blocking of International Trade
After the ban of the foreign currency use was implemented across the country in January, business in Pyongsung has been hit the hardest due to the sharp falls in the amount of imports to Sinuiju. Those who maintained their livelihood after the closure of the Pyongsung market last June cannot do business anymore because they have nothing to sell. Pyongsung has been functioning as a wholesale market that supplies imports across the country. However, after the new ban, no products were available in Pyongsung, making the residents suffer from difficult livelihoods. Because Pyongsung did not manufacture its own products, it has been developed as a wholesale market in which the products from Sinuiju or Pyongyang are distributed across the country. The ban on foreign currency use and the rising prices of imports are exacerbating the situation, leading to an increase in starvation. One Pyongsung executive official estimated that a great number of people must have starved to death in Soonchun, Dukchun, and Pyongsung combined.

Starvation in a Cosmetics Manufacturing Factory in Sinuiju
The biggest cosmetics manufacturing factory in North Korea is located in Sinuiju, North Hamgyong Province, and has a great number of workers as such. The food distribution at the factory was not usually stable. However, the distribution was discontinued after the currency reform, which has resulted in starvation among the workers. The Neighborhood Unit asked the community to help those suffering with food shortage. However, the residents coldly responded to the request. They explicitly expressed their anger toward the head of the Unit by saying, “Even we have nothing to eat right now. How can we help others in these hard times?”

Order to "Only Import Rice" Received with Much Disagreement
Sinuiju customs authority and party officials are currently conducting an inspection. Due to the shortage of rice, the country has been instructed to ban imports of fruit and to only allow strategic materials for manufactured goods to be brought into the country. They implemented this measure to make food import a number one priority. The citizens are saying this order is “nonsense.” Kim Jae Kook (alias), a wholesale dealer from Pyongsung said, "We need other goods besides rice to keep the market open. If rice is only imported, it won't help the market." Cho Bong Il (alias) from Pyongyang also had a similar opinion. "(Trade) businesses are searching for rice in Dandong, China, but there is no hope. In the past, Chinese immigrants went to China and brought rice back on credit, but now they are not allowed to do this. No one wants to sell things on credit. We need other goods in the market so that people will bring out their rice. It’s difficult enough as it is to import any goods, so restricting the import to rice is ridiculous.”

[Food]
Number of Households Dying of Hunger in Chungjin Rapidly Increasing
Stricken by hunger, the number of households that cannot even manage to eat an ounce of soup is rapidly increasing in Chungjin City, North Hamgyong Province. Chungjin City estimated that since February, people have been dying of hunger in all the districts. Death tolls have reached highs of 20 a day and the number of households that do not have anything to eat continues to increase. In enterprises that employ 350 to 500 workers, 50 to 60 laborers on average are absent due to starvation. Despite the severity of the current food crisis and the significant impact it has on the operation of these enterprises, not enough measures are being taken on part of these businesses.

Gimchaek Steel Mill Makes Food Distribution to Workers in March
The Gimchaek Steel Mill in the North Hamgyong Province was finally able to make the food distribution for March. On the first two days of March, before Chairman Kim Jong-Il began his site visit, the rations were distributed over two days. The steel mill put in a lot of effort to distribute the rations. There was a significant amount of loss occurred in transporting food, but the mill was able to give the ration for the first and last ten days of the month to the laborers. However, the report that the rations were normally distributed was a false report. The only rations that were given out were lunches for laborers with physical work such as the steel mill workers. Other than soups prepared with about four to five pieces of pork, no other meals were distributed. Despite this, reports went out saying that normal rations of food were being given out, putting the laborers in low spirits. Currently, even with the rations for March having been distributed, at least seven to ten people per company are still unable to go to work.

[Economy]
Foreign Currency Rate Drops Temporarily Since the Second Week of March
The foreign currency rate has been fluctuating all the time these days, but recently it went down temporarily since the second week of March. In Pyongsung of South Pyongan Province, the rate was 1,630 won for 1 US dollar in the evening of March 11th; it went down to 1,450 won the next day, and went down even further to 1,400 won on 13th. Although the downtrend did not last as the rate went up to 1,550 won on that evening, the severe fluctuation, which went up to 1,650 won in the early March, is temporarily stopped. In addition, 1 yuan was dropped from 240 won to around 200 won.

Merchants at Soonam Market Challenge Market Control
Price regulations on market good have started to be enforced in Soonam Market in Chungjin, North Hamgyong Province in light of continued price instability. However, the merchants are showing greater resistance to the regulations. On March 11th and 12th, regulators cracked down on merchants selling rice at "very high" prices; however, they were met with anger where the merchants raised their voices protesting that rice was not supposed to be controlled. In response to this, the Safety Bureau took drastic measures in banning resistant merchants from selling their goods at all, effectively punishing merchants selling sugar, side dishes and other processed foods.

Only Police Officers Are Gained by Strict Control of the Market
The Soonam market in Chungjin was regulated on 11th and 12th. On 13th, an administrative officer picked up a megaphone in front of the market and warned that “people should enter the market only when it opens in the afternoon and the peddlers who are not allowed to use the sales booth cannot sell goods in the market”. On this day, 20 peddlers who were not supposed to sell goods inside of the market were caught as they spread goods and sold them around the market. After each is fined with 500 won, the regulated goods are supposed to be returned back according to the rules, but the police officers are pocketing some of them. On 14th, Joo Mi-Young (alias) was caught while she was peddling food, and approximately 40 kilograms of rice, 20 kilograms of glutinous rice, and 40 kilograms of crushed maize were confiscated. Later, she received them back and checked them to find out about 5 kilograms of both rice and glutinous rice were disappeared. She went to a police officer to ask about it, but only to be hurled vulgar abuses, such as “this OOOOO vixen dares to run amok here”. This type of case in which Ms. Joo had experienced occurs to 30-40 people per day on average, and if one includes peddlers who came from local regions, sometimes it occurs to more than 50 people. Once a violation is discovered upon inspection, a fine is imposed and a report is made, but if they receive 40 cases, they report about 20 cases only to the superior authority. Then they siphon off the fines and divide them among themselves. In such a way, the police officers are earning 5,000 to 10,000 won per day on average. If the siphoned commodities are added here, a daily earning of police officers is pretty substantial. People are just infuriated at this news.

[Politics]
Hoeryong, “Do not roam around unnecessarily after 7pm”
The Security Bureau of Hoeryong City, North Hamgyong Province announced residents through the heads of Neighborhood Unit to restrict outdoor activities after 7 pm in response to increasing crimes of robbery and murder. According to the Security Bureau’s announcement, robbers specializing in fraud from Chung-Jin infiltrated to the city, so residents should take precautions by refraining from roaming around and checking the doors. The Bureau official also emphasized that those who offer accommodation to non-resident relatives and strangers for money will be punished by being sent to the reeducation center.

ChungJin, Helpless at the Continuous Occurrence of Murder Cases
The Security Bureau of Chungjin, North Hamgyong is bogged down with the rapidly increasing robbery and murder cases on top of the extreme poverty rate. Around 9p.m. on March 4th, a murder occurred in Songpyung district. Myung-Chul Kim of Nam-Hyang Town, Po Hang District was discovered dead, beaten hard on the head. According to his family, Mr. Kim left home on his bike and the missing bicycle seems to indicate it has been stolen. Although the police officers of the Security Bureau of Songpyung District have issued warrants to catch the murderer and started investigation and interviewed ex-convicts in the area, there has been no progress. Furthermore, due to the inundation of murder cases, there are many cases that are left untouched. As they recognize lack of manpower as the cause of this problem, the Security Bureau of North Hamgyong is looking for solutions with which to increase the number of patrol officers per area as well as adding more patrol units.

[Society]
“Do Not Get food from Someone Else’s House”

Jeoung-hee Lee (alias) is a middle school teacher living in Soonchun, South Pyongan Province. Seeing that school attendance has been decreasing due to food shortages, she took a simple survey in her class, asking her students to raise their hands if they eat porridge at home for sustenance. Half of the class raised their hands. Lee said that she urged her students to never beg for food at someone else’s household during a time of crisis. She taught her students that it is now unscrupulous for one to even eat at a close friend’s house. Lee said “although it is meant to be a joke, there is a saying that men nowadays may drink liquor at their friend’s house, but not eat a grain,” and reflected on the direness of the food shortages.

The Poor Need Help, but Everyone is in the Same Situation
The heads of the neighborhood unit are having troubles as the national government ordered to help the poor. They complain "Everyone is on the same boat. Who can help whom? We take all the blame from people because we have to urge people to contribute to help the poor." Han Sun-wha (alias), the head of the neighborhood unit in Soonchun City, South Pyongan Province, said that she feels uncomfortable by the fact that she is in charge of collecting non-tax payment given that most households are poor. Regarding the situation of her neighbors, she comments as follows:

"There is one of the poorest families in my neighborhood whose head of the household died last night. He had starved for many days and died from hunger. Officers were shocked with how poor they were when they visited the family. The household is so poor that their daughter could not visit them after giving birth. She instead survived with boiled corn. At the village office morning meeting, the officer ordered to provide 80Kg of rice and some coal to the family. We also confronted the officer, 'We have nothing to give away. How could we manage to survive if we continue to help the poor? We'd better let them find the way to survive by themselves. We do not have enough food for ourselves. How could we help others?' Central party officials give orders to village office, and the village officer to the head of the neighborhood unit. However, the head of the unit cannot help but doing nothing because they have nothing. Those who died recently did not have any health problem. They just died from hunger. There is no way to help the poor as we are all in the same situation. The other day, we helped the poor by providing 5Kg of crushed maize, but they kept expecting more help later. It is like filling a bottomless jar. How could we keep helping others in this situation? I helped them even though I was in a bad situation as well. I felt bad when they asked us more help. I would rather quit the position as the head of the neighborhood unit."

[Women/Children/Education]
Many Children Abandoned in front of Hamheung City Orphanage
The orphanage of Hamheung City in South Hamgyong Province has seen a rise in the number of women who want to leave their child. The orphanage says that although they understand the mothers’ dire situation, due to the food shortage the institution cannot take care of the additional children, some of whom are infants or toddlers. The orphanage accepted seven infants in the last month already and the number of applicants continues to increase. The orphanage began to insist that mothers not leave their young children, saying “We cannot take infants.” Since starting the strict policy of refusing to accept young children, mothers have begun leaving their babies in front of the orphanage without entering the building. Between mid-February and early March, nine babies have been abandoned in this fashion. Older children are becoming kkotjebis, homeless young people who have no choice but to beg and try to live on their own. Beginning in January, the number of Kkotjebis near Chupyong Market began to increase. As of the end of March, there are around 30 such homeless children.

[Accidents]
Two Pyongyang Residents Murdered at Wonsan Station

On the night of February 26th, a man and a woman from Pyongyang were murdered in front of an outdoor restaurant at Wonsan Station in Kangwon Province. The man was killed immediately after being deeply stabbed with a knife and the woman died two hours after she had been rushed to the hospital. Investigation has shown that the victims were merchants who sold roll films and picture printing papers, and were likely to have been robbed of approximately three thousand dollars worth of merchandise. The local safety bureau is currently looking for eyewitnesses, and at the same time investigating people who had contact with the victims, thinking it might be possible for an acquaintance to have committed the crime. However, the case has yet to be solved.

[Investigative Report]
Four Reasons Causing Deaths by Starvation in 2010
North Korea is undergoing a difficult period this year with food shortages and a lack of resources, unstable prices caused by excessive inflation, and soaring crime rates, especially robbery and murders. The most troublesome issue is that people are dying from starvation even before the lean spring season begins. Why is this happening? This report aims to identify the reasons and summarize them in four major points.

1. Ban on small plot farming and trade
The first reason causing starvation among North Koreans is the continued ban on small land patch farming and peddling activities. Since the Arduous March, city workers managed to survive without a salary and a food distribution system by cultivating small land patches for private farming or conducting small scale peddling. As they were able to support themselves without government help, the government began confiscating private land and tried to restrict trade, citing the need to control workers who no longer went to their employment sites. In 2005, the government announced that it would start food distribution again, but in 2006 it confiscated small farm land patches and prohibited private six-month farming in 2007. The ban on private farming was not easy to enforce, but it continued throughout 2008 and 2009.

The ban on peddling and markets continued in the same manner. The government introduced an age restriction on peddlers in 2007 and expanded the ban on markets from last year, exemplified by the closure of the Pyongsung market. Moreover, the 150-day battle was extended into another 100-day battle, restricting the market and private farming by mobilizing people to serve in various labor stations. City dwellers survived by small private farming and trading, but all such activities were prohibited.

Households with some cash managed to survive, but poor households ran out of food as early as June and July 2009. On top of this, the currency reform exacerbated the situation, pushing the middle class and traders with capital into poverty. Everybody suffered from the situation, and nobody was selling food in the market. Food became scarcer, and death from starvation spread nationwide starting with the poorest households.

2. Farmers with cash withholding rice from the market
Second, cash was distributed to farmers, but there was still no food distribution to workers in cities. Farmers encountered great difficulties because of disastrous floods in 2006 and 2007. As a result, many farmers in rural areas died while others suffered from diseases and malnutrition in 2008.

By distributing 15,000 NK won per person to farmers, the government tried to raise their living standards. However, this had negative consequences in the rice market. Farmers used to sell in the market some of their food rations they received after the harvest to buy some necessities. This year, however, farmers did not have to sell their food in the market thanks to the cash they received after the currency reform. Now that they have free cash to buy items they need, there was no reason for them to sell scarce food. This explains why there is no food at all to be traded in the city. The cash distribution helped farmers who did not have money to buy necessities, but the consequence is the market imbalance that has hurt city workers disproportionately.

3. No fertilizer and discontinued foreign aid
The third reason is the discontinuance of foreign aid and a low agricultural yield caused by a lack of fertilizer and bad weather conditions. After the Arduous March, North Korea received hundreds of thousand tons of foreign rice and 300,000 to 400,000 tons of fertilizer from South Korea. If the fertilizer received from China and Russia is counted along with the supply the North government bought itself, the North had over 800,000 tons of fertilizer every year.

However, the newly inaugurated Lee Myung-bak administration in South Korea in 2008 suspended its fertilizer aid to the North, which greatly affected North Korea’s agriculture. The North was dependent on the South’s fertilizer aid, and now it could not fill the gap with its own fertilizer production. The North tried to distribute whatever it managed to collect from human manure and green scrap, but such supplies did not help much. Moreover, the cold spell last spring delayed the sowing season, and the summer drought culminated in a much lower yield than the 2008 level. Discontinued food aid from South Korea and the U.S. and a reduction in international food aid exacerbated the food supply.

4. The currency reform accelerated the rate of death by starvation
Finally, the recent currency reform can be seen as the direct cause of all of these problems. Even without the reform, widespread hunger and deaths from starvation was anticipated. The currency reform triggered starvation deaths earlier and contributed to its spread across the nation. It worsened serious problems so that there is no other way out of this situation unless a special measure is implemented.

Park Nam-gi, Minister of National Planning and Financial Affairs, advocated the currency reform following his analysis of national reports from all regions. He concluded that the country had sufficient food stock and ration materials for three years. The North’s official estimate of last year’s agricultural yield is four million tons. However, this was a flawed estimate because it was based on false reports in the first place. Officials in agriculture understand that the true yield of last year was much lower than the estimate.

The four points outlined above illustrate that the situation in North Korea is reaching a boiling point. The desperate food situation in North Korea is causing people to turn their backs on the government and threatens to become dangerous. Social disorder with increasing rates of murder, robbery, and collective protest is also on the rise. The North Korean authorities should reflect on their problems closely and find solutions quickly.
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