Increase in Homeless Families, Escalating Costs in Rice

Daily NK
Yang Jung A
9/2/2007

HRW “irregularities and corruption provoked by governmental officials”

Recently, there has been an increase in kotjebi (homeless) families squandering around the vicinities of jangmadang (markets).

After interviewing 12 North Korean merchants who frequently travel in and out of North Korea as well as defectors, Kay Seok, a North Korea researcher for Human Rights Watch (HRW) revealed in an interview with Radio Free Asia on 29th, “Currently, the cost of food in North Korea is continuing to rise” and commented, “People are selling their homes to obtain food and as a result there has been an increase in kotjebi families.”

Seok said, “According to defectors, the number of street dwellers has increased as of the end of last year and beginning of this year” and explained, “If you compare these times, you can see more people do loitering around the city markets after the spring hardship. However, there are many people who have become kotjebi after selling their homes to buy food.”

Comparing the times of the hunger period in the 90s she said, “At the time, there were many kotjebi children having become orphans after their parents had died and hence, homelessness was directed at children” and asserted, “However, today there is an increase of homeless families who beg around jangmadang or steal goods during the day and then sleep in the same areas at night. These trends indicate that a large number of people are once again experiencing hardship as a result of hunger.”

She revealed, “As of early this year, the cost of food has steadily increased. According to various locations, costs have increased significantly in some areas” and “At present, 1kg of rice costs 1,000~1,200won at jangmadang. About this time last year, rice sold for 700~800won.”

Likewise, in August the DailyNK made reports indicating that the cost of rice had escalated to 1,200~1,300won (USD3.8~4.1) along the border regions and even 1,500won inner land.

Ms. Seok added, “The cost of rice is affected by various factors such as the distance in delivery and farms. Also, the closer you get to the border, the more rice is available from China.”

Regarding the cause in escalating rice costs she said, “Overall, agriculture and production decreased due to the flood last year. The fact that South Korea suspended its rice assistance following North Korea’s nuclear experiment also would have had a significant impact” and “Even this year, floods occurred in the agricultural regions and as a result, it is unlikely that prices will fall despite the harvest period in September and Oct.”

As for the reasons causing North Korea’s incessant food crisis Ms. Seok said, “Causes are the discrepancies in the North Korean government’s policies as well as irregularities and corruption by governmental officials.”

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