(Photo) A young man and woman sit and talk on the riverside of the Yalu River. Photos of Sakju County, North Pyongan Province, from the Chinese side in September 2019 (ISHIMARU Jiro).


◆"Electricity is supplied only for one to three hours a day”

The supply of electricity to the residents has deteriorated further. The authorities have been instructed to turn over electricity for farming and industrial use during the peak season, and there is almost no supply of electricity for civilian use, otherwise known as the “residents’ line”. The authorities are also cracking down more strictly on the illegal use of electricity. We interviewed a number of people living in the northern part of the country to learn more about the latest electricity situation (Kang Ji-won).

The city of Hoeryong is located in North Hamgyong Province in the northeast of North Korea. Although there are no major industries, the city has been favored in terms of urban development as it is the birthplace of Kim Jong-suk, the mother of Kim Jong-il. It currently has an estimated population of 150,000.

Our reporting partner, a factory worker living in Hoeryong, told us of how bad the electricity situation has been since May. He is a member of the Workers' Party and lives in an apartment in the centre of the city.

◆Prioritize agriculture and factories, cut electricity for residents

Q: How is the current state of the electricity supply?

A: It's terrible. The "residents' line" only provides about one hour of power a day. We have a hard time even charging our cell phones.

Q: What are the reasons for the deterioration power supply?

A: There are several reasons. One reason is that now is the busy farming season, so priority is being given to planting rice and other agricultural work at cooperative farms. Since the authorities are ordering us to carry out the tasks of the Five-Year Economic Development Plan, the "industrial line" of factories and enterprises is being given priority, cutting the supply of the "residents' line”. Although the rural and industrial lines are supplied for eight hours a day, this is much shorter than in usual years.

In the first place, electricity production itself has fallen considerably. We have built many small and medium-sized hydroelectric power plants all over the country, but many rivers have dried up because of the cutting down of trees in the mountains (leading to no water retention capacity).

Also, due to the blockade of the Chinese border to prevent the influx of the coronavirus, mechanical parts are no longer coming in from China, and we cannot repair the broken generators. Stable electricity production has not been possible. At the moment, we are concentrating on agricultural work, but there is also a shortage of electricity to run the pumps. This is why we are cracking down intensively on illegal electricity use.

◆Electricity theft by officials will also be punished

Q: There has been a crackdown on "electricity thieves," right?

A: That's right. Cases in which officials use "industrial lines" to bring electricity to their houses without permission, or in which traders use their connections to get power distributed to their houses to make sweets, bread, and popsicles, are thoroughly investigated and severely punished. They have set up a crackdown team composed of officials from the provincial party, prosecutors, and the People's Committee (local government). The head of the people's group has even mobilized his son to look around for unregistered electrical appliances and electric heaters in use.

Q: Weren't electricity meters installed in every home, and weren't people charged according to the amount they used? 

A: They forced us to install electricity meters, but they are still surveying the appliances in our house and making us pay for them accordingly. In my apartment, they even installed a machine that shuts off the power if the electricity bill is not paid.

It's only an hour when the electricity is on, but even receiving electricity is annoying. The "non-socialist censorship groupies" come to investigate during the hours when the electricity is on to check whether people are watching South Korean dramas and other foreign recordings.

◆What about Pyongyang?

What about Pyongyang, the capital, where electricity supply takes priority over local cities? On May 31, the U.S.-based Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported that it had received information from inside sources that "the entire city of Pyongyang has begun to receive a 24-hour electricity supply.

ASIAPRESS asked our reporting partner to call an acquaintance living in Pyongyang to find out, and as of June 4, he was told that “The daily electricity supply is about five hours.” It is expected that the supply of electricity will vary from district to district.

In addition, in Hyesan City in Ryanggang Province, as of June 4, the electricity supply was limited to about three hours a day.

※ASIAPRESS contacts its reporting partners in North Korea through smuggled Chinese mobile phones.