GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 435 December 28, 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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Rice, Water, and Fuel for North Koreans
This Winter, “Rice, Water, and Fuel” in Urgent Need
Hoeryong’s Rice Crop Decreases From Last Year’s
Rice Harvest in Hoeryong Dropped from Last Year
Hoeryong Needs Foreign Support
Deportation Order for Defectors’ Families in Border Areas
Shinyang County Factories Are All Left Idle
Central Party, “Factories Should Not Expect Help from Above

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Rice, Water and Fuel for North Koreans
North Koreans are in urgent need of food, safe drinking water and fuel for heating. Their poor living conditions get worse in the winter. Clean water becomes scarce when the rivers freeze up, and the same goes for food and fuel. A common cold can develop into a serious illness due to lack of medicine. People freeze to death in homes with inadequate heating systems. These deaths went unheeded during the period of mourning for last Kim Jong Il. While the international community is preoccupied with the death of Kim Jong Il, those truly in need of attention are the nameless North Korean citizens who are struggling to survive. The newly appointed leaders are far too busy attending the national mourning, and their capabilities to take care of their citizens are questionable. South Korea, however, has the capacity to save the lives of North Koreans. The South Korean government should take an altruistic stance toward North Korean people and provide them with clean water, food, and adequate fuel. We hope the international community would offer a helping hand as well to the suffering North Koreans and actively engage in humanitarian aid programs in the near future.


This Winter, “Rice, Water, and Fuel” in Urgent Need
North Koreans are literally struggling to survive this harsh winter. There is no clean water supply because water pipes are frozen. Even rivers are frozen, making it impossible to get fresh water. Although people try to get water from the ice, they do not have any fuel to melt it. No electricity has been supplied for more than a month except the capital city of Pyongyang. Some households in Pyongyang use coal for heating, but people in other places have to look for firewood or dry grass left in the field. People without water and fuel rarely have food. If they do, it is corn, and they are fortunate to have some. People who did some small plot farming are relatively better off since they have a bit of food savings. However, people living day by day doing small businesses never know if they can eat today or not.

Mr. Lee Gil-Nam (Alias), a merchant dealing second-handed bicycles shuttling between Wonsan and Hamheung City, South Hamgyong Province, said “Since the Arduous March, North Korean people have learned to survive independently, and more importantly, have taken responsibility for themselves. However, not even one of the three items (rice, water and fuel) has been fully supplied over the past 15 years. What has the Party done for the people when we are trying so hard to survive? We are no longer expecting anything from the Party. I wish the Party would leave us alone to take care of ourselves.” He complained indirectly about the Party’s control over the people.

A Party official of Hamheung City also described that “In the area of the Seongcheon River, they found a frozen dead body of an old man. He died from cold, thirst and hunger while living alone in an empty apartment on the fifth floor. The head of the Neighborhood Unit found him by chance. I am very concerned not only that many people might die from cold this winder but also an epidemic might occur due to malnutrition and lack of proper hygienic care.” He expressed his frustration as well on the limited freedom to the local Party officials. As the local Party was told not to ask the Central Party for help, the local government tries to start working on their own. But then the Central Party launches investigations on local officials behind them. Local officials are too intimidated to do anything. They cannot even publicly report how many people have died from hunger and cold, because it will work against them at the performance evaluation of the local government, and the local party will be blamed for that. The City Party official sincerely appealed for humanitarian help saying in tears, “People in Hamheung City urgently need rice, water and fuel. I will be extremely grateful if anyone helps us now.”


Rice Harvest in Hoeryong Dropped from Last Year
This year’s crop for Hoeryong City in North Hamgyong Province is reported to be below five tons per 1 jungbo (2.45 acres) at best. Three to four tons per jungbo is common, and even the maximum amount failed to go over five tons. The amount of crop is estimated to have decreased by ten percent from last year’s. Other agricultural regions in North Hamgyong Province have begun end-of-year evaluations of their harvests as well. In plantations of Hoeryong, the maximum amount of pay that a worker has gotten is 450,000 won, with average workers receiving around 150,000 won. Before the currency revaluation, workers were paid sometimes as much as 700,000 to 800,000 won; despite the rising price level, workers are receiving even less than they used to. Workers who had excused absences from The Province Farm Management Committee only receive 60 percent of the minimum wage, which is usually less than 100,000 won.

The amount of ration the workers’ wives get is half of what their husbands get. Each worker’s ration is supposedly 700g of grain, 50-50 between rice and corn. Of course, the ratio is not exact. A daily ration for an eight-year old child is 300g, but it is impossible to get the full amount due to nontax payments. As of now, male farmers all across North Hamgyong Province are busy collecting manure and spreading them on the fields in preparation for the New Year, and female workers are weaving straw bags.


Hoeryung Needs Foreign Support
A farm worker in Hoeryung city expressed disappointment at this year’s crop, even after using more fertilizer than before. He said, “We normally use government-supplied fertilizer, and when we run short of it as well as pesticide, we buy them at the market. I am pretty sure that we used more fertilizer than in any other year. However, the crop still did not turn out well, and I am very discouraged. Farms own 15 to 20 cows, and one work unit has one agricultural tractor. Cows are raised by households and not by work units as before because they are better taken care of in that way. This method was quite effective, and we have not seen cows die of diseases or get weak in recent years. Cows are usually mobilized for farm work, and if they are not occupied, they are rented out to individuals at a fee. This year, we did not have bad conditions for farming, but the climate was too bad for the crop. The City Party figures show that the production has dropped by more than 1%. It would be great if we could get some support from foreign countries, but so far we have not seen any food aid from abroad reaching us working in collective farms. We got some medicine and basic necessities. The distribution method was that they put the items on display, and each household picks up whatever they need. For Mother Kim Jong-sook’s birthday, we have recently received 500g of sugar and 500g of soy bean oil. Other than that, we have not received anything. Hoeryung is one of the well-supplied cities as well as Pyongyang, but sea foods are only available to Pyongyang citizens. There is nothing for us. This is our situation, so things must be no better in other places.


Deportation Order for Defectors’ Families in Border Areas
The deportation of the defectors’ families in the national border area is in progress since November 25 of last year. Each household is investigated of its incomes and expenses, and those that have abnormally high expenses or who have a missing person within the family are the primary target of investigation. Households with a history of crossing the river over to China, being caught for using a mobile phone or being suspected of defection, as well as even those with a history of transacting South Korean commodities are also investigated. Among these, a few households suspected to be defector’s family have been selected as examples and deported to the remote countryside far away from the border area.

The new leadership reaffirms its strong will to completely eradicate the disloyal reactionary forces in the border area, but the affected residents are complaining that it is too much. Jung Eun-hyang (alias), who lives in Hyesan City of Ryanggang Province, says the following: “The families who do not have anything to eat cross the border towards Changbaek, China, in broad daylight. They are in desperate circumstances and they feel that they have no alternatives, even though they might get shot to death. Among those who are deported to the remote countryside, it seems that only a small number of them are the actual families of defectors. Anyone who is able to pay one million NK won can escape from the ordeal, even if they are in fact the families of defectors. Most of the defector’s families get away with it because their family member in the region below (South Korea) sends them money. If they happened to be the unlucky draw for a show case, they suffer a major blow, but otherwise, they can cover up themselves by offering bribe.”

An officer from the security authorities also says, “My understanding is when a defector’s family is caught, they slip money into the security officers’ pockets to ask for lowering the severity of the case. Then the officers lower the severity by treating it as a simple border-crossing or a peddling with Chinese traders. These days, cases have been suddenly increased in which the security officers are offering a deal by asking for a bribe beforehand. Even though a substantial number of security officers were replaced, the atmosphere is just like how the previous officers were doing the work.” In other words, there used to be some reform movement once among the security officers including the Border Patrols after the investigation by the “Storm Trooper Units”, but the deportation order surreptitiously created an atmosphere to overtly ask for bribes again. The problem is, that every resident in the border area, regardless of whether they are a defector’s family or not, is harassed by the excessive regulation from the authorities. The residents who are already having the most difficult days due to the severe cold and hunger suffer so much because of the regulation from the authorities. If the new leadership repeatedly asserts the control of the border area, it seems that the residents’ lives in this area will become even more exhausted.


Shinyang County Factories Are All Left Idle
It has been reported that none of the Shinyang County local industry factories are in operation. Two years ago the factories have been criticized by the Central Party for not having any outcomes during the consecutive 150-day combat and 100-day combat.

An official who inspected Shinyang County during that time said, "I visited the Shinyang Food Factory which plays a vital role in the food production for the people in the county. Although the building looked impressive, the equipments were not installed and even the partial production process on the corner of the factory was not in proper operation .When I asked the workers in the factory they all said in unison that it would take a long time until people can benefit from the factory even though the construction had started several years ago. The situation in the paper mill right next door was not much different. The condition of the building was so poor that it looked like a wrecked storage. Walking around inside was difficult because of various garbage littered around. I ran into the manager comrade at the factory and asked about the production power. He answered that they could not produce anything properly due to power shortage, and therefore they were unable to carry out their paper and notebook production plans. I remember his lamentable tone, while I was looking around the production facilities with him, telling me that the power required to produce paper is at least 200kw, but the actual power provided by the government is only a few watts, making it impossible to produce paper no matter how hard they try." He had a chance to visit the factory two years later. The situation was the same as before, and he was told that the power condition got even worse.

“It makes sense that they cannot produce anything due to power shortage. Use of inefficient facilities inevitably leads to higher consumption of power, which results in poor production. Even the small amount of power supply available before has now been cut off, so the workers had to give it all up." He said there was no chance to revive the factories. Moreover, the facilities and the buildings of the factories in Shinyang County were severely damaged by the flood during the summer of 2006. Now, even the facilities in good condition ended up being scrap metal due to lack of proper repair work. The Shinyang Chemical Factory also has stopped operation with its rusty facilities due to bad power supply and lack of material. An official from the Central Party said with regret, "None of the factories in Shinyang County is in normal operation. This is not a problem confined to Shinyang County, and it is very depressing."


Central Party, “Factories Should Not Expect Help from Above”
“In today’s circumstances factories cannot increase production or grow in size if they rely only on the assistance from above.” This is practically the only policy that the Central Party has given to regional factories. Simply put, the government is advocating self-revival. The example of Shinyang County factories being practically all but shut down is a nationwide phenomenon. Even in these conditions the Central Party has found a few model factories and has been advertising them on a large scale. The Central Party has recently lifted up the Pyongseong factory as a model example of self-revival. Recently the Channel 3 broadcast station has advertised, “Pyongseong paper factory had no better conditions than other factories. However, they have mobilized reserves and the employees have a high morale. In the past year they have renewed all their production processes. They set high standards and increased the production of paper and student workbooks. They have invented new products that are in high demand, thus diversifying their production. They have set bold goals that will significantly increase production rates compared to past seasons, and are faithfully devoted to their work.”

The Central Party claims that the officials’ outlook and attitudes are the reasons that Pyongseong paper factory is prospering although it has no better conditions than other factories, thus putting emphasis on ideology. One official of the Central Party says, “The Central Party blames the regional officials for the lack of production in the regional factories. They only criticize the district officials for not being able to manage the few factories in their own district. They say nothing about how they would help the regions. Just like parrots, they simply repeat words like ‘A powerful nation does not come automatically. It is created by our hard work and sweat. All our officials must come to their senses and not wait for someone’s help. They should reform and renovate on their own.’ How will the regional officials be encouraged by words like these? It is no wonder that the regional officials fall into self -seeking ways rather than help the people.” He judges that the Party’s policies have long since reached their limits.
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