Administrative Districts and Major Cities of North Korea

Musan mine was one of the few large, state-owned enterprises that has somehow managed to maintain food rations and salaries for its estimated 10,000 workers. However, recently it is where many have abandoned their duties.

"Attendance suddenly dropped after pay and distribution was cut off. The workers had no way to eat or live. The security officers originally intended to look for the workers and force them to go to work but they saw the poverty of the workers and chose not to. There are many people who simply lack the strength to work properly if they go to the workplace. Workers who are absent and leave early in the day to go to the mountains and collect herbs and wild plants for sale are the ones who manage to survive."

Musan is a city that survives off its iron mines. Because the exports were completely stopped, life became suddenly hard for the people. In mid-May, each worker was provided with 3 meals of dried Chinese noodles in lieu of a salary.

In late March, our contacts visited copper mines in Hyesan, Yanggang province, where workers are facing a similar situation. The copper mines were operated in cooperation with Chinese companies but, due to the sanctions, the contracts were dissolved at the end of August last year.

"Up until now, around 800 workers at the Hyesan mines were paid 14 kilograms of rice and 20-50 kilograms of cooking oil each month. Cooking oil used to be distributed in lieu of proper payment by the Chinese partner company but, since February, this practice has come to an end. Workers are forced to go to work while their family members are left to run business and support the family. However, the lives of the workers and their families have become tremendously difficult."

Mines producing high quality coal are concentrated in South Pyongan Province. Coal is the most important source of foreign currency for North Korea. In 2017, before the sanctions became strictly enforced, about $ 1.18 billion of coal was exported to China. When the sanctions blocked coal exports, North Korea lost roughly 48% of its total exports to China.

The coal industry is massive in North Korea. Millions of people are employed in this industry which includes such selecting coal(선탄), machine repair, electric power, and transportation. No field survey has been conducted but it is easy to imagine that as exports have ceased, cash income has declined. Regular markets located near coal mines will have suffered deeply after the flow of goods and currency was blocked. Part 2 >>>

Editor’s notes on North Korean reporters

ARCHIVE(pdf) >>