GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 464 July 18, 2012


[“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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Changjun Street, “Pyongyang above Pyongyang”
Discharged Soldiers, Relieved from the Construction of Apartment Buildings in Pyongyang, Eagerly Return Home, but…
The Corn Production in North Hamgyong Province Is Likely to be Sharply Decreased due to Drought
Sungbook Farm in Heoryong: Half of the Rice Crop Has Dried-up
Inner Provinces Farmers Die of Starvation
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Changjun Street, “Pyongyang above Pyongyang”
     Pyongyang officials are calling Changjun Street in the Mansoodae District of Pyongyang, where the luxurious super high-rise apartment complex is located, the “Pyongyang above Pyongyang.” Grievances have been circulating among key officials who were not allotted the new housing. One official of the Central Party said that, “The Changjun Street houses are furnished with imported refrigerators and washing machines; furthermore, there is a tight security system as well. The 2nd and 3rd generations of revolutionaries were first selected as the residents for the new complex. Most of the newly selected residents used to live in Gwangbok Street in Mangyongdae District. However, many officials were not selected for the new place. As far as I know, especially among the officials, those who didn’t receive these benefits even though they are from the Mangyongdae group, have quite strong grievances.”

As athletes, artists, scientists, and the key officials in politics and in the Party move their residences from Gwangbok Street in Mangyongdae District to Changjun Street in Mansoodae District, a new social stratum has been created based on the areas of living. “Think about it; if you are left alone in the old street after all of your neighbors moved simultaneously to Changjun Street from the street where they had lived with you for more than ten years, then who would be happy with that? Isn’t it blatant evidence showing just how you and your family are treated by the Party? Any family, no matter how powerful they used to be, would feel bitter for appearing to lose power and connections.” He also said that the new apartment complex in Changjun Street generates a sense of incongruity even among the existing elite core classes as well.  


Discharged Soldiers, Relieved from the Construction of Apartment Buildings in Pyongyang, Eagerly Return Home, but…
     A group of soldiers, who from year 2009 had been committed to the construction of apartment buildings in Pyongyang, was discharged and returned home. Kim Pyeong-hak (alias), who came home to Shinuiju in North Pyongan Province, says that it is a homecoming in 4 years. Even though the date of discharge had already passed, in line with the Military First Policy, they had to stay regardless of personal preferences to finish the task bestowed by the Fatherland. For Kim the work ended early; many co-workers are still at the job-site. He states that when returning to his so dearly-missed home, his eyes became red with anger and he shed what felt like bloody tears. Sharing his mixed feelings, Mr. Kim says: “The gap between Pyongyang and the province had widened more -- it's comparable to ‘this life and the afterlife.’ How many people and soldiers were mobilized to construct apartment buildings? We worked without proper food, sleep or clothing to build the residences, and now we’ve finished, we’ve become useless. They sent us home without any compensation. That part may be all right as I didn't do the work expecting some rewards from the Fatherland.  However, upon returning home, I found that my mother has become crippled after hurting her leg while working as a small land patch farmer, while my sister-in-law has left the house. Even a rubbish dump would be better than this house that is collapsing. My two young nephews can’t even balance their heads and are starving to death. Since my older brother has passed away, I have to become the head of the household, but I don’t know how I will be able to survive and I’m scared. I don’t get food rations even though I’m a discharged soldier. Life has become unimaginably miserable.”

He says that people mobilized to work in the construction of apartment buildings in Pyongyang have been pushed to the limit. Having seen the high-rise apartment buildings (even though the interior work has not even finished) and now returned to their homes, they are full of doubt, saying “What have I been doing?” Especially the discharged soldiers, who could not find even a shabby mud-hut and have to live off of their parents or brothers and sisters, are thus become even more alienated.


The Corn Production in North Hamgyong Province Is Likely to be Sharply Decreased due to Drought
     The North Hamgyong Provincial Party investigated the drought damage on the farms in their jurisdiction. The corn production is a great portion of the farming work in the mountainous North Hamgyong Province, but it is predicted that the production will drop sharply because the corn plants are all dried up due to the spring drought. North Hamgyong Province farm workers assume 2-3 tons of corn production per one jungbo (1 jungbo is 2.45 acres); however, some farming villages within the mountains might produce less than 1 ton. An official from the Provincial Party said that, “We probably should wait until September to get a better production estimate because the rainy season is not over yet. Anyhow, so far it is a dismal situation. But, we are at least in a bit of a better situation than the Provinces of North and South Hwanghae and South Pyongan,” he added sadly. 


Sungbook Farm in Heoryong: Half of the Rice Crop Has Dried-up
     At the Sungbook Community Farm of Yusun Labor District in Heoryong City, North Hamgyong Province, rice seed-beds were seriously damaged by drought. More than half of the seedlings died because farmers had no water. Despite the Central Party's repeated orders to boost food output, farm workers are deeply worried that little rice will be produced. In addition, as the drought continues, not only there are damages to rice production but also due to delayed planting other crops from the field would be seriously damaged. Insect infestations have also increased. Farmers have no pesticides and try to kill insects by hand. Hoeryong City Party officials, although the city does not have any measures to improve the situation, are warning, "If the crops are not good, all managers can expect to be interrogated," and draw criticism from the farmers.


Inner Provinces Farmers Die of Starvation
     Farmers are dying of starvation in the inner provices such as Hwanghae, South Phyongan and Kangwon. Rather than working in the fields during busy farming season, many farmers and their families have to roam the mountains to gather wild plants. Some barely survive on grass soup mixed with a spoonful of corn meal. The number of starvation deaths rises in the counties of Anak, Jaeryong, and Bongchun in Southern Hwanghae Province.

A family is lucky if it has two meals a day, even if the meals are just porridge. There are reports that more than half of the population may not get even one meal per day. On the west coast, the potato harvest should start on June 20th. Farmers are in despair: because of drought, potatoes are the size of beans. A government official in South Hwanghae Province said, "We have to get through this difficult time, no matter what. But I am deeply worried: the potatoes are so small and I don't think the corn crop is going to turn out right either. I am so worried that more farmers will starve to death."

North Korea Today No. 463 July 11, 2012


[“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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North Korea Emphasizes the Importance of a Favorable Relationship with China
Atmosphere along National Border Areas Still Brutal
Bigger Companies Have More Serious Food Shortage
As Living Conditions Worsen, Crime Rates Increase
Residents of Songpyong District in Cheongjin Survive on 1Kg of Corn per Week
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North Korea Emphasizes the Importance of a Favorable Relationship with China
     The subtle tension between North Korea and China appears to have subsided. One of the Central Party officials stated, “Some of the government officials believe that China rarely supports North Korea properly when help is needed. However, North Korea will not gain anything by creating friction with China. For instance, the capture of a Chinese fishing boat by North Korea or the launch of Kwangmyongsong-3 Satellite must have made China uneasy. Now we postponed the second satellite launch in an effort to preserve North Korea-China relations. It is true that there has been some tension between the two countries, but it is not as bad as it appears on the surface. Even though the progress of Wihwado and Hwanggumpyung development projects has been very slow, it does not mean that the relationship between North Korea and China is crumbling. It is just a rumor created by people who want to play North Korea against China. Our government announced, “It is the enemies who try to break North Korea’s close ties with China by spreading false information.” Some officials in the Party warn against Chinas influence if we get heavily dependent on it. And yet, the Party is emphasizing that we should refrain from any words and actions that might have a negative impact on the relationship between the two countries. Considering the severe drought and food shortage in the country, the governments urging people to take precautions is the correct course of action. The North Korean government has issued repeated orders to all departments, businesses, and other units to refrain from any conduct that might harm the NK-China relations.


Atmosphere along National Border Areas Still Brutal
     The tightened security along the national border between North Korea and China has been extremely harsh since the end of last year. In fact, the Chinese government has issued repeated orders to pre-empt North Korean defectors at border areas such as Jilin and Liaoning Provinces.  An official of Hyesan City, Ryangang Province, described the situation saying, “According to the news from Changbai area, the Chinese government seems to have a strong will to root out North Korean defectors. The Chinese police, border patrols, rangers, and even small police stations in rural areas, have intensified their investigations. Chinese national security agents and public prosecutors are investigating and arresting Chinese citizens or any officials who might have helped North Koreans cross the border or assisted foreign countries and organizations in the border crossings. The Chinese Central Party has persistently issued orders to inspect foreigners and monitor their behavior.”

An official at the North Korean Central Party stated, “Many Korean-Chinese live in cities in Jilin and Liaoning Provinces that are close to border areas, so the Chinese government is especially concerned with these areas. The Chinese government’s diligent patrolling its border is good for our government, but it also hurts our pride. Not long ago, a Chinese official told me, ‘It is very likely that the food shortage will get worse in the future. We cannot help worrying about problems with North Korean defectors.’ I maintained my manner, but I felt quite humiliated by his condescending attitude towards our country.” He added that the Chinese government’s tightened border control seems to be a long-term policy. It has almost finished installing barbed wires along the national border areas, and it continues operating intense investigations on brokers and assistants for North Korean defectors in China.


Bigger Companies Have More Serious Food Shortage
     Bigger factories seem to be suffering from even more serious food shortage. To date, big factories in Hangheung, Cheongjin, and Wonsan have occasionally distributed food to their employees by selling their pig iron or machinery. The premium company of Kimchaek Steel Mill in Cheongjin used to buy corn by selling some of their products. This year, even that became difficult because they lost many overseas sales channels. One official of the Central Party explained the big companies slow sales as the results of the last years investigation on the Ministry of Trade. Since the investigation on the Ministry of Trade, the newly appointed officials have not yet settled properly into their positions. Foreign trade was widely shaken by the replacement of officials. Foreign trade takes up a large portion of business in big factories, and as the trade officers could not do their job properly, the domestic production and the workers livelihood were deeply damaged. Even in Pyongyang Textile Factory and the three major steel mills, the food rations for the employees are almost stopped, let alone small factories across the nation.

The workers are surviving on anything they can come by, such as rice wine draff, tofu-dreg, corn husk, or corncob powder, barely managing day by day. Faced with the miserable reports coming from all parts of the country, a Central Party official commented, The investigation on the Ministry of Trade started in July last year. Back then our foreign trade was at the historic peak, and we all thought we were making a real progress if we worked just a bit harder. We had a blue print of business cooperation with China. Nonetheless, there is no economic breakthrough this year, the foreign trade isnt going well, and the food crisis is getting worse. I think thats why people started to pick up on the investigation of the Ministry of Trade again. I understand that replacing people was a necessary step to take before the new leadership was formed. However, as the old saying goes, even a decayed tooth is worth keeping to protect the gum from the cold. We should have kept the old officials and used them as much as we could. It is a real shame. I think no one could foresee the back blast of the investigation.  


As Living Conditions Worsen, Crime Rates Increase
     The gap between the rich and the poor in North Korea is getting wider. A few rich people get richer, and the poor continues falling into a worsened situation. The families of employees of Kimchaeck Steel Mill, who live in Lanam District of Cheongjin, North Hamggyong Province, are selling their furniture because of their difficult economic situation. The items are bought by merchants and then sold at the Chinese border areas. Due to their hardship, various crimes occur even in the broad daylight. A policeman from Cheongjin City said that three cases of bicycle theft occurred on the 7th in the vicinity of Sunam Market. The occurrence of three bicycle thefts in just one day is not common. In another case, a band of three burglars robbed a food vendor, beating him up at Subukdong in Pohang District. Kkotjebis (homeless youngsters) were the initial suspects in the attack, but the real criminals were jobless young men who were caught after two days of the police investigation.

At the end of June, a band of five burglars broke into a government store, threatening three guards with weapons, and stole eight video recorders and three bicycles. The guards were severely injured, beaten by the burglars with a coal shovel in the kitchen. The store had not had much to display on the shelves, and to make matters worse the robbery happened. Now the employees of the store worry about the reimbursement for the lost items. One policeman from Cheongjin said, “In fact, they were lucky that the incident ended at that level. Because of the hardship of life, a lot of horrible crimes like murder happen these days. Such crimes are increasing due to difficult living conditions.”    


Residents of Songpyong District in Cheongjin Survive on 1Kg of Corn per Week
     Residents of Sonpyong District in Cheongjin City, North Hamgyong Province, are running the “Earn 1Kg of corn a day” campaign. One kilogram of corn costs around 2,000 – 2,500 NK won. Geum-young (alias), who runs a second-handed clothes business in Soonam District, said it is hard to make 2,000 won a day. In the past, it was not hard to earn 1Kg worth of rice a day, but rice, currently selling for more than 4,000 won per kilo, is impossible to even dream about eating these days. Because she cannot earn 1Kg of corn a day, her family eats wild-grass porridge for breakfast, skips lunch, and eats some corn noodle for dinner. The families who cannot even afford this eat only two meals a day consisting of watered-down grass porridge mixed with corn powder and wild plant. An official from the People’s Committee in Songpyong District said, “You can think that one third of our district residents are barely getting on with their lives by eating wild plant porridge. Last year, a family of four consumed one kilogram of corn for three days. Now, we have to use food more sparingly than that. Many are suffering from malnutrition, which easily leads them to diseases and death. Still, our Province (North Hamgyong Province) is better than others. I heard that southern provinces (for example, Hwanghae, South Pyongan, and Gangwon Provinces) are worse off than us so that they are barely surviving day by day”. He sighed, adding that Songpyong residents’ living conditions are better than that of those in the South.

North Korea Today No. 462 July 4, 2012


[“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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Even well-off families Can Only Add a Handful of Rice to Their Corn Meal Porridge
Chungdan County Residents Can't Even Get a Bowl of Porridge
Summer Comes Again When Last Year’s Flood Damage Has Not Been Even Repaired 
Tearful Faces of the Squid Fishermen
Hospital Officials Say, “Tuberculosis Drugs are in Urgent Need”
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Even well-off families Can Only Add a Handful of Rice to Their Corn Meal Porridge           
     Corn (maize) long ago replaced rice as North Korea’s staple food. North Koreans call corn meal “corn ‘rice”. The well-to-do eat steamed rice; for others, corn is their staple food. Depending on a family’s economic status, the rice-to-corn ratio varies. Well-off families don’t use more than 50% corn; as the household budget becomes more strained, corn’s share grows.

Mrs. Kang Un-hui (alias) of Pyongsung city in South Pyongan Province has not so far had to worry about food thanks to her husband, who is a police officer. However, now only her husband gets a food ration. It has been several months since the food ration ended for the three other family members. Even so, they are not starving, but the quality of their meals has fallen sharply. Long ago, they only ate steamed rice. Last year, their meals were half corn and half rice. This year they struggle to be able to mix a handful of rice into the corn meal.

Says Mrs. Kang: “These days, if you’re not pretty rich, the quality of your meals worsens. Now, a family that can afford corn meal is doing well.  It’s gotten to the point that it’s hard to have corn meal with even one handful of rice. If our family is like this, other families will be even worse-off. Apart from North Koreans of Chinese origins, everybody is like this. Even so, that does not mean we should complain. My husband has steady work, and I’m just grateful that he can keep his position. I hope that the country’s food situation will improve quickly and we can receive our food rations in the usual way.”


Chungdan County Residents Can't Even Get a Bowl of Porridge
     A long and severe drought has so completely dried-out all farmland in Hwanghaedo, that the fields’ deep cracks make them look like a tortoise’s shell. At end-July 2011, the collective farm at Shimpyeongri, Chungdangun, South Hwanghae Province suffered severe erosion from a sudden downpour: a large amount of produce was lost. Farmers tried hard to prevent the loss by lifting grain stalks stuck in the mud. In the end, farmers got no food rations in the autumn. Chul Kim, a farm worker at Chungdan County said in despair, “Needless to say, all the rice and corn drooped because of the drought. If you pull hard on a corn stalk, it comes right out of the ground. A few households live on last year’s corn. Most families cannot even afford just one porridge meal. Farm households are in that miserable condition. Technically, if a man wants to put-in a full year’s work, he needs to be at work on 290 days. That man will get 800g of food (raw grain) per day; a woman farm-worker will get 700g per day. If there were food to be distributed, those who are not members of labor force, e.g., the elderly and children in elementary school, get 300g. A ration of 400g is given to 3rd grade (middle school) students; the ration is 500g for 5th graders. Two years ago, the ration system collapsed: farmers don’t get any rations, if everything is taken away to supply the army. Last year we survived thanks to wild vegetables and a little bit of rice. Now, we starve. As you can see, conditions are desperate. One cannot tell the difference between pig swill and humans’ food. If things do not change, we cannot prevent massive deaths from starvation.”


Summer Comes Again When Last Year’s Flood Damage Has Not Been Even Repaired 
     Hwanghae and Pyongan provinces are fearful of the torrential downpours which repeatedly hit the areas every year. Areas which suffered severe flood damages last year, such as Chungdan County and Baechun County in South Hwanghae Province and Kangseo County in South Pyongan Province, are not even repaired yet. The spring hardship season became even more difficult to endure this year because not just the farm fields but also the individual small land patches were swept by the water last summer. Also, damaged houses have not been repaired so many people are still living in tents.  

One official in Kangseo County, South Pyongan Province, heaves a sigh, “All the collective farmsteads are collapsed and residential houses are destroyed. Many schools, day care centers and kindergartens have been destroyed, either partially or completely. After the roads were blocked and the means of communication were cut, some of them have been repaired and the buildings were rebuilt, but they are not finished yet due to the lack of cement and a shortage of lumber. Those who were forced out into the street without any money did not have any means to survive, so many have died. Even though not every case has been reported to the Party, the most miserable people are the flood victims. The farm has helped some people, but even these people barely ended up taking care of room and board collectively in the farm because the reconstruction of houses is unfinished. If we suffer another flood damages this year, we are simply helpless.”

Kangryung County in South Hwanghae Province suffered a landslide as a result of the torrential five-hour downpour on July 30 of last year, and dozens of people lost their lives. For every farm, many family members could not find the body of the deceased, and some flood victims could not find a proper place to live, so they ended up living like kkotjebies (the homeless). The landslide occurred so fast that they could not react, and the damage was too much. Many areas have not been repaired yet since all the river banks, railroads, and roads were destroyed, not to mention the inundated farmland and the destruction of residential houses.

Even in the allegedly repaired areas, they merely stomped down the soil without the aid of any proper equipment. People suffer from flood damages every summer, but there is nothing they can do. A farm worker in Kangryung County expressed his desperation: “The Central Party dispatches officers and the Provincial Party also dispatches its duty officers only after the flood hits the area. What good is it when they are unable to fight against the flood? If there are machines and heavy equipment, they can drain off water quickly from the inundated areas, but they scoop up water by mobilizing the hungry and feeble farmers, so it is no wonder that restoration work is not going well. There are not any plans which will prevent the flood damages, either. There are no trees planted in the mountain, the river banks which were destroyed last year have not been reconstructed properly, and the drainage channels have not been reorganized. Those who know these things can do nothing but to heave a sigh. Farmers are dying these days because they have nothing to eat, but in addition to that, they have to worry about not having enough water as well as having too much water; everything is something to be worried about.”


Tearful Faces of the Squid Fishermen
     It is the season for catching Squid and squid in the East Sea villages. However, these villages are now filled with woes as a prohibition on exporting seafood, high gas prices, and shrinking schools of squids are all causing the fishermen’s worry.  North Korean fishermen can not compete against Chinese fishermen because they must deal not only with complex processes to acquire permissions to go out to the sea, but must also use old boats and equipment.  Meanwhile, Chinese fishing boats have even been overfishing the marine life, including the younger catch.  Fishermen in the East Sea villages have been making their annual income from squid catching between June and October.   During this season, not only would traders come to the villages, but also out-of-town workers who come to find a job.  Catching squids requires many men, and drying the caught squids for sale is labor intensive work for women.  The men would usually head out to Sea around 2 or 3 o’clock in the afternoon and come back to the port between 9 and 10 o’clock in the morning the following day. However, due to changes in climate, squids in the East Sea have been dwindling.  These days, fishermen more often than not catch fewer than 20 Squides after spending the whole night at sea.  Almost all of the fishing boats are rented, so 6 out of 10 caught squids are offered as a rental fee to the boat owner, and the remaining 4 squids are shared among the fishermen.  Some boat owners take 7 of 10 caught squids as a rental fee.  Fishermen are becoming de-motivated because of the dwindling quantities of squids in Sea than the prohibition on exporting seafood.

Pollock has traditionally been the most well known fish in North Korea, and has become a popular export item. However, it is now a fish that is imported from China.  Sinpo Port, South Hamgyoung Province, has many warehouses to keep caught Pollock, but now those warehouses are empty.  A worker in Sinpo Port said, “not much Pollock catching was done due to a lack of gas for fishing boats.”  He continued, even if the Pollock were kept in a cold warehouse, the electricity supply to the warehouses is unreliable so the Pollack could not be kept fresh.  Storing the caught seafood has been as much a burden as catching seafood.  Unless a company has strong finances, it is difficult to survive in the seafood trade and companies that export seafood can do nothing about the prohibition on trading seafood.  He concluded that companies were exporting seafood behind the government’s back, but this is risky since goods would be confiscated if the government found out about the violations.


Hospital Officials Say, “Tuberculosis Drugs are in Urgent Need”
     In spite of increasing number of patients at local hospitals, medical drugs are in short supply. A medical doctor in Hamheung City, South Hamgyong Province, said, “Many patients die of malnutrition everyday. We, as doctors, issue medical certificates for the cause of death, but in most cases people  just die without even getting a drug prescription, which is useless since there is no drug at hospitals. Patients should seek drugs on their own. If they were in position to get drugs, they wouldn’t have died from starvation. Even if they luckily get it, medicines are not effective because of their weak immune system.”

Most local hospitals are in the same situation. A worker at the hospital attached to a manufacturing facility in Hamheung City said “Many accidents occur since it’s a factory, but even a simple antiseptic is not available. We really need antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs, especially for tuberculosis. TB spreads very fast among children, so we desperately need drugs for meningitis and TB. I would not ask for your help with the malnutrition problem since it cannot be resolved without food. But I will never forget your kindness if you urgently provide with antibiotics and TB drugs for our children.”  She asked this favor ov
er and over.

North Korea Today No. 461 June 27, 2012


[“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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Drought and Lack of Fertilizer Result in Worst Crops This Year
Each Cabinet Office Struggles to Meet Its Target for Fertilizer Purchase
NK Officials Based in China Avoid Visiting Officials from NK
The Path of Independent National Economy, a Shame for the Word Independent
“Juche-steel Has Virtually Failed”
Textile Production Is Not Going Well
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Drought and Lack of Fertilizer Result in Worst Crops This Year
     Many farmers are becoming increasingly distressed as they are unable to water their fields.  Moreover, because of the scorching mid-June heat, many farmers have become weak or have fainted while working. To make matters worse, the authorities do not have a set plan to prevent farmers from severe malnutrition or heatstroke and they certainly do not have an extra supply of water for these distressed farmers. Conditions in North Korea have become so difficult that even government officials say among themselves, “These conditions may equate to those of national disasters.”  One official from Haeju City, South Hwanghae Province, said shaking his head, “Every year we say this is the worst year, but this year is the absolute worst in our history.”  He further explained in despair, “Because the three main components of good agriculture - fertilizer, water, and labor - are severely lacking, we have to sustain ourselves on grass porridge, and even that now seems difficult. The aridity of the ground hinders grass growth, and the increased periods of drought have resulted in contaminated water, propelling the spread of diseases. Patients are crowding the hospitals and demanding medicine, but there is none. There is no hope right now.”

An officer at a collective farm in Sahriwon, North Hwanhae Province, declared that he did not expect any crops because of a lack of fertilizer. “It’s not a matter of fertilizer shortages for the farming season. There just isn’t any to begin with. I thought the Heungnam fertilizer factory would produce some but I haven’t heard anything from them. The little fertilizer we get from now and then all come from China. Because we are designated for providing army provisions, the Defense Ministry officials told the trade officers abroad to get fertilizer from Chinese traders for a higher price, promising to pay back in the fall.  At first, the suppliers refused the deal, saying payment needs to be made first. However, after realizing the harsh situation we were in, they agreed to provide fertilizers on credit.  And yet, the amount is still very far from being enough.”  North Korea needs to import 500,000 tons of fertilizer, but the government decided to purchase only 200,000 tons because it lacks funds. Even that amount is difficult to secure because of the Chinese government’s control over its fertilizer export.


Each Cabinet Office Struggles to Meet Its Target for Fertilizer Purchase
     North Korean farms are experiencing severe shortages of fertilizer this year. It is almost impossible to find domestic fertilizers. Each sub-cabinet office had been tasked to secure fertilizers, and some low-quality fertilizers were imported from China through March and April. “In the beginning, the fertilizer purchase assignment was given to the Ministry of Foreign Trade, but it was later reassigned to the Internal Cabinet with a target of securing 200,000 tons of nitrogen and urea fertilizers. The Trade Department was reassigned with food purchase.

The government suggested that each trade officer contribute as much as they could according to their conscience, and everyone was trying to figure out how much food would be the proper amount to submit. In the cabinet, if the officers submit money or fertilizer to fulfill their fertilizer assignment, they will get a waiver of their personal contribution to the country at the end of the year consummate to the amount they submit now. Half of the fertilizer assignment target is taken care of by the cabinet officials within the country while the other half is given to the officials who are sent overseas by the cabinet unit. For instance, the Ministry of Physical Culture and Sports will collect a ton of fertilizer, or its equivalent in funds, inside the country while the other half will be provided by its staff overseas. “We try to manage the shortage by importing Chinese fertilizer but the amount is not sufficient,” a cabinet official admitted.


NK Officials Based in China Avoid Visiting Officials from NK
     North Korean officials who are stationed in China are increasingly trying to avoid meeting any newly-appointed NK officials visiting China. Taking care of these visitors seems to be a more difficult task than their official assignments.

Upon their arrival, overseas officials are expected to take care of the visitors completely by providing meals and accommodation, and even sending them off with gifts when they return to North Korea. An official at the Central Party explained, “In the old days, the authorities encouraged the overseas officials to be patriotic when performing their tasks but now they simply impose heavier workloads and threaten them to complete them. No way that the overseas officials would welcome this practice. There was a major turnover in staff at the overseas offices last September. Since last October, with the exception of a few top officials, most of officials have been replaced in the trade offices inside North Korea as well. Most of those fired were sent to prisons or to revolution education. In general, their positions were filled by new faces. Now the newly-appointed officials are coming to visit China for the first time with their official titles, the officials in overseas representative offices have more things to take care of. They have to introduce the new officials to Chinese traders and train them on diplomatic procedures as well as everyday conduct. Moreover, they need to take care of the visitors’ meals and accommodation as well. For all these reasons, the overseas officials are reluctant to meet the new officials at all.”


The Path of Independent National Economy, a Shame for the Word Independent
     The three main nationalistic pillars of economic independence, Juche-steel, Juche-fertilizer, and Juche-fiber, are not likely to be revived.  These concepts are now often uttered in a self-deprecating tone as being independent is no longer believed possible. Earlier this year, before the announcement of the first year of the “Strong and Prosperous Nation 2012,” the national propaganda had been declaring that “A solid foundation is created by aggressively pursuing Juche-steel, Juche- fertilizer, and Juche- fiber,” but production is much lower than demand.

Chairman Kim Jung-il once declared that, “Building an independent national economy means a country developing its economy by using its own people’s power and natural resources.  It is an economy that is walking on its own feet, serving its own people and not subordinate to anyone else.”  


 “Juche-steel Has Virtually Failed”
     The steel material required for the construction of the 100,000 houses in Pyongyang has been imported from China. It was originally planned to be procured from Kimchaek Steel Mill in Chongjin, North Hamgyong Province. One official of the Central Party reported that they were initially pleased about the prospect thanks to the success of the method for producing Juche-steel, but ultimately the result was a failure. “In January last year, the propaganda was exceedingly fierce due to the attainment of the knowledge on the process of producing steel by the oxygen thermodynamics which is one of the most cutting-edge scientific technologies in the world. We thought all the houses and common service facilities would be completed by April 15th at the latest. However, we soon realized that we shouldn’t rely on the Juche-steel production. Kimchaek Steel Mill was a little bit better than other steel mills due to the national attention and support, but it definitely didn’t meet our level of expectation. Producing less than half of what is expected, people at the mill are now speechless. It still is not producing well this year. The Central Party cannot just overlook this and arrested many technicians responsible for the failure.”

One official in Chongjin confided, “It is true that our new experiment succeeded last year. We have four bigger size furnaces and four smaller ones in Kimchaek steel mill, and we made a separate small furnace for an experiment. Even though the experiment was successful in the small one, errors always occur while using actual size furnaces. That’s why the experiment should be started with a big size furnace, but to do so requires huge amount of money, material and labor as failures tend to happen many times. We didn’t have the money, time, and know-how for that. It was too much for us in the first place.”

As they are currently relying on imports due to the low level of Juche-steel production, the completion of housing construction is delayed indefinitely. A short while ago North Korea reported, “The skeleton assembly of tens of high-rise apartment buildings at the Pyongyang housing construction site has been completed successfully”. However, there still remain places without the framework completed, let alone the interior work. The end of this year is the new goal for completion, but people wonder what percentage can be done with the shortage of both material and funds.


Textile Production Is Not Going Well
     Last May, a large volume of cotton and fabric goods were imported from China to North Korea. One official in Sinuiju, North Pyongan province said, “The people who are buying new clothes belong to the rich class. Most people barely can cover themselves well. People cannot afford to think about their clothing because their concern for food is so pressing. But the clothing issue is also serious. Our country’s textile production is so bad, and our only choice is to import from China. However, how many people do you think are really concerned about their clothes when they have no food to eat? I tend to remain silent because it is too shameful to talk about, and I just sigh when I see people wearing shabby clothes. This indicates that the production of Juche-fiber is not going well contrary to the predictions.” This means that the 2.8 Vinalon* Factory is not meeting the expectations for production. 

One official of the Central Party said, “At first the 2.8 Vinalon Factory was going to be shut down during the period of the third 7 year plan. Instead, they planned to develop the Sooncheon Chemical Cooperative Enterprise into a huge Vinalon factory, but as every one already expected, the plan failed. 16 years after that, Comrade Kim Jong-il expressed his strong will for the factory's reconstruction. The outcome was not good. Shouldn’t we have by now Vinalon fabric and blankets on the shelves in state-operated markets and regular markets? It is difficult to find even one meter of ordinary cloth, not to mention any Vinalon and blankets. Recently, even the army uniforms have been imported from China. If you go to the border area, our soldiers are not distinguishable from Chinese soldiers from a distance. Despite its poor production, we thought the 2.8 Vinalon Factory would be able to supply army uniforms at the very least, but even that is not possible.” Although 2.8 Vinalon Factory has been reconstructed after 16 years, it faces the same difficulties of a shortage of raw materials, shortage of electricity, and out-dated technology.

* Vinalon: A synthetic fiber invented by North Korean scientist called Lee Seung-ki, two years after the invention of nylon. This fiber is close to cotton that Kim Il-sung awarded Vinalon as the Juche Fiber.
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