GoodFriends: Research Institute For North Korean Society

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North Korea Today No. 453 May 02, 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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The Whole Nation in Tears of Joy for April 15 Massive Amnesty 
National Level ‘Homeland Meeting’ to Convene in Early May 
Big Disappointments in Rationing for the 100th Anniversary of Day of the Sun 
“Food Importation Disrupted” 
Salt Procurement Emergency in North Hamgyong Province 
Overseas Dispatchment of People's Livelihood Team: "First, Find Foodstuff" 
Hwanghae Province, "Hamkyong Province is Complaining with its Stomach Full.”
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The Whole Nation in Tears of Joy for April 15 Massive Amnesty 
     The North Korean government granted a massive amnesty in celebration of the Day of the Sun (the birthday of Kim Il-sung) on April 15th. About 7,000 people in Pyongyang and 60,000 to 70,000 people nationwide were absolved of their crimes. Most of their crimes were for misdemeanors and political prisoners were excluded from the list. “Many families were seen exulting with joy, crying and laughing at their reunions with separated family members thanks to the grant of amnesty. People met their fathers, mothers, and other siblings who returned alive after suffering in prisons for years. They cried with happiness and embraced each other. Can you imagine how deeply they felt when meeting family members whom they never considered seeing again? The whole country was full of cries for a couple of days because the absolved people visited their relatives and cried after the amnesty was granted. I received a report that party officials themselves were deeply touched as well as neighbors while seeing those family members reuniting, all crying and embracing with each other. As Tens of thousands of prisoners were released nationwide, the new leadership is gaining a favorable image among residents,” said a Central Party official. 


National Level ‘Homeland Meeting’ to Convene in Early May 
     The new North Korean leadership will convene ‘Homeland Meeting’ in Pyongyang in early May to come up with measures to tackle the food shortage problem that has recently been getting worse. Three to four officials from relevant offices in each county and more officials from the cities are converging on the capital city to attend the meeting. Officials from city parties, county parties and political agencies, not to mention the Ministries and the central agencies, are summoned, making the scale of the conference close to that of the Party Representatives’ Meeting on April 11th. It is reported that the ‘Homeland Meeting’ will discuss ways to cultivate mountainous areas and abandoned lands for securing farmland and other measures to increase food production.

Added to the agenda is the farming labor shortage issue. Farms are suffering from a labor shortage due to the significant death toll among the farmers in breadbasket regions including Hwanghae Province and the high rate of absenteeism among the surviving farmers who are busy seeking grassroots and wild greens to eat in the mountains. One Central Party official said that the Supreme Chairman of National Defense Committee Kim Jong Un “instructed to convene the meeting in order to find fundamental solutions to increase food production. It reflects the Party’s determination to resolve the food shortage problem that is increasingly worsening. North Korean people are gradually warming towards the party leadership, hoping for some real changes to happen this time.”


Big Disappointments in Rationing for the 100th Anniversary of Day of the Sun
     Special food rations for the 100th anniversary of Day of the Sun (the birthday of Kim Il-sung) on April 15 were hardly distributed to civilians, except in Pyongyang and to high-ranking officers. It was a huge disappointment to the people considering that there were no rations for the New Year and Day of the Shinning Star (Kim Jung-Il’s birthday) either. In North Hamgyong Province, 5 kilograms of beans and 7 kilograms of corn were rationed out to each household and an additional 1-2 kilograms of rations were given to families with more people for April 15 holiday. However, there were no rations handed out to civilians in other areas.

Residents in Pyongsung, South Pyongan Province, said, “We used to get sugar and soy bean cooking oil even in difficult times, but we got nothing this year. This year’s Day of the Sun was supposed to be special and the biggest holiday for our nation to celebrate the Great Leader’s 100th birthday. But no rations were distributed despite large publicity promoting of the event. We wondered what’s happening,” and they expressed their disappointments. Some people understand that the preparation was incomplete since this was the biggest event for the new leadership, but the majority of the people were disappointed. A central party officer who looked at the trend reports from provincial cities mentioned that “people expected food rations this time after holding many big events like the 100 days mourning, the National Party Conference, the Supreme People's Assembly and the 100th anniversary of Day of the Sun. Civilians and middle-ranking officers seemed disappointed with the lack of rationing.” On the other hand for the celebration of 100th Day of the Sun, a one-month worth of foods and necessities were rationed out in Pyongyang.


“Food Importation Disrupted”
     An official in the Central Party reports being overwhelmed by the food problem, as complaints come in from all over the country. He receives so many requests for something to eat, even for edible grass roots, and the news about people dying of hunger in parts of North and South Hwanghae Provinces as well as South Hamgyong and Kangwon Provinces adds to his stress. Regarding the increasing food problem, he explained, “Food importation has been disrupted. In order to declare this the first year as a strong and prosperous nation, our Great General took much trouble personally leading the economic revival and visiting China many times. The plan to import 500,000 tons of food from China, however, did not work out as planned. Overseas trade officers worked zealously on this matter, but in vain. Then the General passed away unexpectedly, and trade transactions almost came to a halt for the 100 day period of mourning, so food import has been seriously disrupted.”

Another problem is that the people’s ability to generate a livelihood has been seriously weakened. As market transactions were restricted during the mourning period, the livelihood of those who live from day to day suffered severely. “For city laborers who live from hand to mouth, the initial 10 day mourning period alone was like a death sentence. The arrival of the Lunar New Year’s holiday barely seemed to ease things, but then the 100 day mourning period was announced. Regulation and control were tightened in every market, so the spring period of hardship began earlier than other years. These laborers who live from day to day had difficulty preparing money to start doing business again since they had to use the little money in their possession to feed themselves. The middle class people were able to withstand the difficulties at first, but eventually they had no option but to eat what reserves they had, and everyone ended up like Kkotjebi [homeless beggars],” explained an official in the Central Party. One official from Haeju City of South Hwanghae Province says, “There usually is something to eat in rural areas after the harvest, but the grain fell earlier than usual in our province because of the severe flood damage. The whole nation is suffering financial difficulties, but there are more people dying in our province especially because of this early crop damage.”


Salt Procurement Emergency in North Hamgyong Province
     The People’s Committee of North Hamgyong Province has been put on emergency alert for procuring salt. They have been trying to buy salt since last fall, but so far their effort has been unsuccessful due to a shortage of funds. Although they keep begging the officers who trade with China to procure salt, the only answer they receive is that a deferred payment contract is not available even if the highest interest were to be paid. Some military-aligned companies import salt and sell it in Chungjin at a high price due to the short supply. The salt price used to be 700-800 won per kg in markets through the end of last year, and it rose to the 900 won range early this year. Lately it has leaped to higher than 1,000 won. Under these circumstances, some people worry that the price of salt might become higher than the price of corn. Since salt is in short supply, soybean paste, soy sauce, and other basic foods are hard to find. Basic food factories do not produce sufficiently due to shortages of money, electricity, and the main raw materials such as soy beans and salt. Rich people will stock up a year’s worth of soybean paste and soy sauce in advance, but most people buy those basics from markets each time they need them. The days of receiving basic food provisions are now history in the past.

Cho Sunhae (alias), who works at a hospital, is concerned: “Various diseases are going around due to malnutrition caused by the food crisis and the high price of salt compared to corn. The unavailability of salt, bean paste, and soy sauce is not just an inconvenience; rather, it is a dangerous situation since serious health problems can occur. Salt has to be secured promptly without delay.”

One Central Party official said, “Salt shortage has been around for a while. Also, it is not only a concern for North Hamgyong but a national problem.” Over recent years, the salt works of Hwanghae and Pyongan Provinces were seriously damaged by repeated floods. Importing salt is the way to compensate for the shortage of domestic salt production, but currently there is only frustration over the shortage of funds with which to buy it.


Overseas Dispatchment of People's Livelihood Team: "First, Find Foodstuff"
     In most areas excluding Pyongyang, the pain of food shortage is getting more and more grave with the lack of basic condiments, such as salt, soybean paste, soy sauce, and hot pepper powder. The shortage is so severe that even when one tries to buy it from a market the price is shocking.

The North Korean government ordered that ‘people's livelihood teams’ are organized at a unit, organization, and public enterprise level to go overseas to purchase living essentials, mainly foodstuff. Currently at the end of April, an official from the Central Party reported that 80 percent of the imports is foodstuff. Factory-made goods are about 15 percent, and the remaining five percent are other miscellaneous goods including military goods.

Foodstuff from China is mostly distributed to restaurants and government-run shops in Pyongyang, supply chain and provisions for officials. An official from the Central Party said that farm crops such as nappa, spring onions, and radish are about 30 percent of the imports, and that "There is such shortage that we import 60 tons of cabbage - about two truck's load - from China daily, and it is quickly sold out."


Hwanghae Province, "Hamkyong Province is Complaining with its Stomach Full.”
     One official from South Hwanghae Province who came back from a trip to China to procure foodstuff said that South Hamkyong Province and its officials who are in a desperate search for salt are "complaining with their stomach full."

"For us, it's not really the matter of finding salt - it's the matter of finding anything that we can put in our mouth that will not kill us immediately. It doesn't matter if it has passed the expiration date or junk food. I just want to find more foodstuff from China, whatever that may be," said he, describing the level of desperation.

"Since the beginning of the 100-day mourning period, the poorest of all started dying of sickness from mid-January. From February on, we have urban laborers and farmers dying of starvation. Even now, the number of patients who die in hospitals is increasing. But the government, by tightening control in fear of political chaos during the mourning period, worsened the food shortage," expressing his frustration.

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