(Photo) A homeless girl, about the age of a junior high school student, warms herself with charcoal briquettes in a marketplace. Photographed in Hyesan city, Ryanggang Province in November 2012 (ASIAPRESS).


◆Starvation spreads due to side effects of coronavirus quarantine

The impoverishment of North Korea is getting worse. It has been 1 year and 5 months since the Kim Jong-un regime began imposing strict controls, including closing the border with China to combat the coronavirus. The economy is in a slump, and malnutrition appears to be widespread among those who have lost their cash income and are running out of food. Our reporting partners living in the northern part of the country reported on the reality of the situation (Kang Ji-won).

North Korea is currently in the midst of a period of spring distress when food is in short supply, just before the fall harvest.

Food prices in the market have skyrocketed since the beginning of June, with white rice prices up about 20% and corn prices up about 30% compared to the end of April. Research conducted by ASIAPRESS within the country shows that food rations are available to government, Workers’ Party, the police, and the security bureau (secret police), but have been completely cut off in general companies such as factories.

The side-effects of the Kim Jong-un regime’s excessive coronavirus measures have stagnated the market, and most of the people have experienced a sharp drop in their cash income. Those who have managed to hold on to their savings and debts so far seem to be approaching the limit as the country enters this barren period.


◆Workers cannot go to work due to malnutrition

Musan-gun in North Hamkyung Province is located on the Chinese border and is home to North Korea’s largest iron mine. The estimated population is about 100 thousand. One of our reporting partners who works at the Musan mine complained about the difficulties that ordinary people face.

“The Musan residents are really suffering. They have no money. The mine’s ration for May was only a few days’ worth of corn. Business at the market is not going well at all, and many people are on the edge of becoming ‘kochebi’ (vagrants). Many of the mine workers are so malnourished and swollen that they can’t even go to work.”

The number of tuberculosis patients is increasing, but with no medicine coming in from China, people have been dying since last summer. Recently, there have been a number of accidents where people have died from food poisoning after eating wild plants.

“People pick or buy wild plants from the mountains and mix them with corn flour to feed their stomachs. However, since poisonous plants are mixed in their food sometimes, food poisoning is common. In Soholi, there was an accident where 3 of 4 family members died and only 1 child survived,” said the reporting partner.

Although the condition of the people has reached a dangerous level, the authorities have not taken any concrete measures, such as releasing state-owned food. “At the Musan mine, Party workers have been instructed to help those in difficulty at their workplaces, but even the Party members are on a tight budget. Since even the Party members are on a tight budget, the little food they can provide on their own is barely enough.”


◆More and more people resign themselves to just one meal a day

We also interviewed a resident of Ryanggang Province.

“I can't use cooking oil anymore. One hundred grams of oil costs 70 RMB (about 11 USD), and I can't afford it. Due to the slump in business, everyone has ran out of money, and many people can only eat one meal a day. For me personally, it's even harder than the time of the “Arduous March” (the famine of the late 1990s) because I can't even do business due to the controls.”

From the reports of our reporting partners, it is clear that the current situation in North Korea is a humanitarian crisis. The Kim Jong-un regime should promptly request emergency humanitarian assistance from the international community and promptly allow the entry and inspections of international organization personnel.



Editor’s notes on North Korean reporters
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