(Photo) A woman is washing clothes in the Yalu River. Now, it is strictly forbidden to approach the river in the name of stopping the inflow of coronavirus (Photographed from the Chinese side by ASIAPRESS in July 2017).


In North Korea, the Kim Jong-un regime's extreme measures against coronavirus have disrupted the economy, worsened the civilian population, and even led to starvation deaths in some parts of the country. However, the authorities have been found to have implemented emergency free food distribution in various areas. ASIAPRESS researched 3 cities in North Hamkyung Province and Ryanggang Province from July 12 to 14, asking our reporting partners within the country to assist us (Kang Ji-won / Jiro ISHIMARU).

The investigation results in each region were almost the same, and about 5 kg of corn was distributed free from the end of the second week of July to the 13th. At the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea meeting held in mid-June, Kim Jong-un acknowledged the food crisis and issued a particular order to "guarantee a stable life for the people." The latest food distribution is believed to be a measure based on that order. A small amount of corn was also distributed at the end of June.

Let's take a look at the reports of the various regions.

Free distribution of 750g of food per person for 1 day

In Musan county, North Hamkyung Province, 7 days’ worth of corn was provided to residents through their workplaces, including the most prominent iron mine in North Korea, the Musan Mine.

In Hyesan City in Ryanggang Province, corn was also distributed through the workplace. However, "Some differences are depending on the place of business. People in a shoe factory received a five-day supply while people in a copper mine received a seven-day supply," said a reporting partner. The same applies to Chongjin City and Hoeryong City in North Hamkyung Province.

The daily ratio in all cities was 750 grams per worker and 450 grams per person for dependents. The rations were not state rations under the system but were distributed free as a temporary distribution.

In North Korea, the general population's low-cost state food rationing system has collapsed, except in Pyongyang. Some companies provide food at their discretion in in-kind payments instead of salaries, but there was a significant disparity among companies.

Map of North Korea (Produced by ASIAPRESS)


How did the residents react? Where is the food coming from?

Even though it is only a 5-7 day supply, the residents are welcoming the temporary distribution. In June, the food prices in the market soared about twice as much, causing confusion, but the temporary distribution has brought the prices down a little, according to our reporting partners in various areas. In addition, it is reported that Russian flour has recently become available in the market.

So, where did the emergency distribution of food come from? There was some information that the food was meant for the military, but it is not clear. Those who have received the food have told us the following:

"In June, we were told by the authorities to be patient because we would be receiving assistance from China, but the corn we received this time was from domestic sources. It was not the white rice from Warehouse No. 2 (wartime stockpile rice) that was rumoured. It may have been diverted from 'planned rice'." (North Hamkyung Province) 

※Planned rice is the food that the government systematically stockpiles for rationing to civil servants and construction workers.

"Although the authorities had explained to the residents at the end of June that they would provide the residents with 'military rice,' there was no movement at all by the agencies or companies to prepare vehicles and go to the military to receive the rice. I don't think the rice provided this time is 'military rice'." (Hyesan City)

Authorities Suffer from Soaring Food Prices

In North Korea, the food prices in the market soared to around double in June, raising concerns among the residents. The authorities have begun to crack down on high food prices, but this does not seem to be working, as the newly wealthy, known as "dongchu," are buying up food, and merchants are not willing to sell at low prices.

The corn distributed this time is only enough for 5 to 7 days, and it will be eaten up soon. What are they going to do after that? The authorities are now working hard to control the market price.

"Through the People's Group, the government has informed us that we can buy food at the state-run "Food Marketing Centres" at a uniform price that is slightly lower than the market price. However, since the government does not have a lot of stock, the quantity of food for sale will not be enough, and the quality will be lower, so everyone will buy it in the market. In the first place, most people are starving because they don't have enough money to buy, so there is no point in controlling prices," said our reporting partner in Musan County.

In addition, he predicts that the severe problem of starvation will continue for the foreseeable future.

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