GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 415 August 10, 2011

[“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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[Editor's Note]
Nothing to Be Expected from This Year’s Harvest
“Having worked so hard on fertilizer purchase, but…”
“They tell us to prepare for the rainy season but…”
Outcries of Desperation from Everywhere
Nothing But Despair for Small-Plot Farmers
Strong and Prosperous Nation with What?
[Editorial] Flood Damage Restoration Is Not Complete until Food Issues Are Resolved
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[Editor's Note]
Adding to the huge damage from the devastating flood last year, another flood this year severely affected North Korea again. The heavy rainfall aggravated the country’s already dire food situation, and the flood damage estimates are expected to rise. Pyongyang sent an unprecedentedly quick emergency request to the United Nations for food aid. In contrast to the international community’s concern about the food situation in North Korea this year and its response with food aid, the South Korean government has maintained a lukewarm attitude toward food aid to the North. This time, however, the South Korean government pledged to provide emergency relief supplies to the North for recovery from the floods, which North Korea accepted. The gravity and seriousness of the flood damage on top of the dire food situation of North Koreans is beyond our imagination. When can their suffering come to an end? Echoing the voices of North Koreans affected by the recent flood as well as the chronic food shortage, we hope to find ways to share their burdens and bring their sufferings to an end.


Nothing to Be Expected from This Year’s Harvest
North Korea has suffered a greater damage than last year from typhoon “Maeahri” in June which was followed by a series of heavy rains. North Korean government officially requested the United Nations for aid on July 25th. But they are having trouble grasping the scope of flood damage that hit them in late July, even before they could start recovering from previous damages. The farmlands in South Hwanghae Province and North Pyongan Province have been hit the hardest by the flood, making future harvest impossible. The two provinces, some of the most fertile regions in North Korea, have suffered the most damage two years in a row. “A lot of resources including fertilizers and insecticides were put into the Hwanghae Province this year, so the economic loss is a lot greater,” said a worker. The fields have been completely submerged under water with no visible trace of wheat, and countless fields now lay in ruins.

“I estimate the damage to be multiple times greater than what is being reported on Korean Central Television (KCTV) and Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). Great efforts and workforce were put into this year’s harvest because we predicted the food situation to worsen, but now we don’t know what to do,” said Choi Sung-Chul, a farmer and a resident of South Hwanghae Province, and gave a deep sigh of resignation.


“Having worked so hard on fertilizer purchase, but…”
Since last year, the Ministry of Agriculture and other governmental organizations have reported the dire domestic food situation to Central Party several times. Following a last year’s report that warned, “If the current situation continues, next year will see the worst (food situation) of all,” the Party issued an order stating, “Prepare all necessary materials for the next year’s good agricultural performance.” Accordingly, the Ministry of Foreign Trade has made every effort to purchase fertilizers and pesticides since early this year. An official at the Ministry of Foreign Trade said, “Trade officials have followed the order of the Organization and Guidance Department in the Central Party and worked very hard this year on importing fertilizers and agricultural chemicals instead of food with all the funds we had.” Since there was no food purchase assignment other than the army provisions, they did not purchase food.

However, as food sources got depleted and the reports of food crisis with deaths from starvation poured in from every part of the nation, the Central Party questioned the Ministry of Foreign Trade about the food import situation. The Organization and Guidance Department in the Central Party explained that it is true that they ordered to import fertilizers and agricultural chemicals for next year’s farming, but they have never ordered not to import food. A Foreign Trade Ministry official expressed his frustration over the unfairness, saying that the Organization and Guidance Department changed their own words and blamed the Ministry for food crisis. Now that the inspection on the Foreign Trade Ministry became extremely tightened, he could not say any more.


“They tell us to prepare for the rainy season but…”
Although the Ministry of Foreign Trade imported and generously distributed fertilizers and pesticides to major farming regions and great care was put into farming, all the efforts were in vain because of the disastrous flooding of farmland. Kim Nam-chul (pseudonym) said, “This year, since the time people were mobilized for farming, we have been working frantically. The Trade Office imported fertilizers and pesticides on a larger scale than any other year and generously distributed them to all the farming areas, so we were sure that we would be able to begin harvesting by the end of the rainy season. Current conditions are much worse than those during the Arduous March (the massive famine of the mid 1990's), but I had hoped that the food situation would get a little better this year. When will this life (with food shortage) end?” and hung his head in despair. Farmers in areas flooded by torrential rains should be digging all the fields in preparation for planting winter crops such as cabbages and radishes, but they are too devastated to work because of the heavy rains that have hit them again. Every year during the rainy season, the fields are flooded, and the government has been emphasizing the importance of flood prevention. However, because the country has a large deficit, they have not been able to construct any flood barriers, and their orders to prevent flooding sound hollow.

In Geumya, Jeongpyung and Yodeok Counties of South Hamgyong Province that have suffered damage from heavy rains, the cornfields and rice patties have either been completely flooded or destroyed. According to Moon Oh-Sik (Pseudonym, Age 52), a supervisor at eup Farm in Geumya County, “The Provincial Party and the Provincial Farming Management Commission have taken a special interest in contributing to building a stronger nation through better farming, as pointed out by this year’s New Year’s Day Joint Editorial. Because of the efforts of the farming mobilization and alleviation of the fertilizer shortage, the corn and rice crops were initially doing very well. However, half of the crops were previously damaged by heavy rain and the rest were then completely wiped out by the recent downpour. People are afraid that areas that have not yet been affected by the rain will also be washed away by a torrential downpour.”

Also people say, “Farming divisions are raising the river banks and repairing the waterways in preparation for flooding and torrential rains, as well as building embankments in valleys to prevent landslides. But, they can crumble easily if there is a heavy downpour.” However, there are many farming divisions that have yet to establish preventive measures against flooding. The officials from the Provincial Party and the Military Party Farming Management Commission are supervising the recovery effort in the affected areas, but they have not been able to do much.


Outcries of Desperation from Everywhere
A managerial official working at a collective farm in Yeonan County, South Hwanghae Province said, “A sudden heavy rainfall flooded our farmlands and disrupted grain harvest. I am afraid we can’t get anything from the farmland and all the work we did so far since the all-out mobilization of May went in vain. There have been repeated warnings from the Party and the government to prepare for floods and to launch a campaign of a forced mobilization for that. Easy to say than to get it done. There has been no action for lack of resources. As a result, we are as vulnerable as we have always been to floods. Every year our grain harvest suffers from the heavy rainfall.”

The situation is the same across the region. In Yeonan County and Baechun County, South Hwanghae Province, almost nothing is expected for harvest this fall. This region was flooded last fall as well, and farmers could not get enough food distribution. To make matters worse, most of what was left to farmers was taken to the People’s Army for the army provisions. Farmers in the region complain about the food shortage exacerbated by flood, saying, “Last year we had to live on a ration of a few months for a year. Running out of food early spring, we had to live on wild herbs to survive. And now, we cannot expect any food distribution again this fall.” They share with each other their complaints that they have to survive only on some early harvested potatoes grown in small plots just as they did last year.

Though living in a “food basket”, they have rarely had a chance to eat whole rice. When they get some rice distribution, they sell it to buy a larger amount of whole corn that can last longer. The rate of people getting sick is high especially among children aged 3-4 and elderly people who have difficulty in digesting corn meal.


Nothing But Despair for Small-Plot Farmers
Small-plot farmers are now worrying about how they will eat after the enormous damage done to their crops by the recent torrential rains. The government has no plan in place to help farmers who have suffered damage, reconstruction has not begun on roads and riverside levees destroyed by floods, and farmland covered in mudpiles are not being cleaned up. In Bongsan County and Seohong County in North Hwanghae Province, a large number of corn fields were swept away by landslides, turning the fields into wasteland. Sixty percent of residents in the two counties rely on small land patch farming to survive, but the landslides caused by this year’s rainy season have flooded their fields and left them with nothing to eat. At the beginning of the spring season, the lack of manure forced farmers to cultivate their fields with human waste in an unimaginably difficult effort to survive, but now there is nothing to harvest and many residents are worrying how they will be able to carry on their lives.

Lee Yongcheol (alias, 61), a farmer at the co-op farm in Seohong County, receives senior pension from the government. However, in order to earn a living as a small plot farmer, he tilled and cultivated 700 pyeong (approximately 0.57 ac or 0.23 ha) of land in a nearby mountain, planting soybeans and corn. The recent landslides, however, have swept away everything he created and now he says he is completely uncertain about the future. The other members of his family were only able to eat two meals a day, and they spent their time from seven in the morning until sunset tilling the fields and planting corn and soybeans. His family had taken all the money they had to buy manure and worked hard to produce a good harvest, but now he believes that all their hard work was for nothing.

“The government only distributed several months of food to us after the damage the weather made last year destroyed all of our crops,” he said. “Now we have to farm on small plots in order to eat. This year, however, all the small plots we had worked so hard to maintain were completely swept away. How are we expected to survive next year? It’s clear to me what will happen. Sinc my family can’t run our own businesses, what the government gave us and the farming we did was our only hope, but now we have nothing to look forward to,” he continued, trying to fight back tears. “There is no future, no hope…all day, everyday I keep on thinking that if I have to live this way I would rather die.”

Unfortunately, human waste cannot be used as manure for corn, so many farmers had sold their belongings in order to buy farming manure. The recent storms, however, rid farmers of any chance to harvest their crops, and there are many people who shed tears at the thought that selling their belongings for manure was, in the end, a wasted effort.

Farmers in this area have so little to eat that most people are eating two meals a day of potatoes or barley. The vast majority of people do not even have corn meals, so they are forced to survive on porridge.

Corn fields in South Pyeongan Province have also been severely damaged. Fields in the Mundeok County co-op farm have been completely covered by mud and sand and the rice paddies are almost all underwater, making them impossible to harvest. Flood damage last year also caused poor crop yields, and because the remaining grain was collected for the military there was nothing left for the farmers.

With nothing to eat, farmers are surviving precariously on potatoes and barley from this year’s harvest. “The food all ran out in April so we’ve been surviving by picking vegetables up in the mountains and eating potatoes,” said co-op farmer Lee Hyeongsuk (alias, 39). “We worked with anticipation for the fall season, but we ended up getting hit by the weather hard again this year. Every year it's the same situation, and with all the energy it saps up I don’t think I can do this anymore,” Lee lamented. While looking out over the water-covered fields, one farm official had this to say: “We had just been able to take a break after the end of the mass mobilization when we were hit again with floods. Just like last year, I don’t see us getting anything from the government.”


Strong and Prosperous Nation with What?
Now the spring lean season is over and early crop of potatoes are out. Nevertheless, domestically produced rice is not in sight in the markets of South Pyongan, North Hamgyong, and North Hamgyong Provinces. The food that is being sold or traded by food merchants is all imported rice from China, but even that is far from sufficient for consumers. The imported rice from China in the market has been stocked for several years so it is not fresh and lacking stickiness. However, since the amount of import is small the market merchants cannot afford to sell in large quantities. Up until May food ration has been given to officials of the Central Party and other government and Party agencies, but food distribution could not have been made since June. Therefore, the food condition has reached the worst level. The food shortage problem is so serious that food distribution could not be done even for the elites in Pyongyang. As such, the food situation for ordinary people needs no description. At this point people are feeling extremely insecure and already worried about how to survive in the following year as large areas of rice field in the granary have been damaged by flooding caused by heavy rains this year. The government has proclaimed around the country that it will open the door of Strong and Prosperous Nation in the year 2012. However, people are questioning and criticizing with what and on what economic basis they can bring about Strong and Prosperous Nation. Even officials are questioning how Strong and Prosperous Nation in the next year can be achieved when crop yields are at dismal level every year.


[Editorial] Flood Damage Restoration Is Not Complete until Food Issues Are Resolved
Seoul, South Korea, in late July 2011 was scorched by the heaviest rainfall in a century. Experiencing climate change, North Korea was not exceptional from massive rainfall damages. Continued on last year’s flood damages in the area of Hwanghae and Pyongan Provinces, North Korea has been again suffering from a flooding this year by typhoon and rain during the raining season in middle of June as well as heavy rainfall in July. This year damages were much severer than last year. The North Korean government quickly apprised United Nation (U.N.) of flood damages and asked for support on July 25, 2011. The damages in the area of Hwanghae, Pyongan, and Hamkyung Provinces were so bad. The farmland flooded and was buried, banks and levees were disrupted, residential houses flooded, and railroad and highway were washed away. Although the scope of damages hasn’t been accurately examined as yet, actual damages can be surmised from the flood damages in South Korea that it could be much severer than reports by Korean Central Television and Korean Central News Agency in North Korea.

Since last year, the North Korea government has been trying to address the food shortage, expecting that this year would see the worst food supply conditions. Nonetheless, the food shortage is reaching its worst point; many people have died from starvation since this spring and the food ration has completely stopped even to officials since June. The fact that North Korea immediately asked the international community for help and accepted the South Korea’s offer despite a political tension between the two indicates how serious the situation is that North Korea is undergoing now. As the flood damages exacerbated the already dire food shortages, North Korea is in a very difficult situation that can’t be possibly handled by North Korea alone.

The flood and landslide in Seoul's Gangnam with the heaviest rainfall in a hundred years was effectively dealt within a few days’ time with the availability of various equipments and heavy machinery. Still, more time was needed for those who were affected to resume their daily domestic lives with others' help. However, in North Korea, where there is a lack of equipment and machinery, manual work is the only reliable source of repairment. In the footage of flood repair released by North Korea's Korean Central TV, no heavy-duty machinary that is commonly seen in Gangnam's flood repair is seen. It is hard to predict how long the repair will take, when the long list of everything that needs to be done, such as taking care of the crops that had fallen, cleaning out the mud from the house and cleaning out household utensils, repairing the damaged rods and re-building is to be completed only by the human hand with lack of food.

Food can provide consolation and hope for North Koreans who are suffering from the flood and food shortage. With the shortage of food, it is difficult to get involved with repairing the damages from the flood. To provide the food, cement, and equipment requested by North Korea is to provide its people with a new hope in the face of such a disaster, and also to relieve them of hunger and to ensure them the basis for a new life to be rebuilt. The government must allow food aid to North Korea by private organizations, and also consider an additional provision of emergency foodstuff and materials and equipments for flood repair at the government level. The emergency necessities, such as blankets and clothes, as well as medicine, nutritional food, and instant noodles promised by the South Korean government would be of a great help to those in need. However, what must be done more urgently is to ask those who need help about what they think is the most necessary. It is unlikely that the damage from the flood will be repaired without an adequate supply of food. A more proactive and generous aid from the South Korean government is the way to help the North Korean in need as well as to facilitate a faster recovery from the damage. We hope that this event will prove to be an opportunity ease the hostility between the North and the South.


1 comment:

Jay E. Simkin said...

North Koreans need to imitate the Libyans. Don't send food to North Korea. Send rifles.

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