Archive for the ‘Dams/hydro’ Category

DPRK’s 2015 drought (UPDATED)

Wednesday, July 8th, 2015



Pictured above in Google Earth: (Top) Lake Yongphung 2014-4-7 (Bottom) Lake Yongphung 2014-9-12

UPDATE 27 (2015-8-13): Reliefweb reports CERF aid to the DPRK for drought relief:

Central Emergency Response Fund allocates US$6.3 million for Drought Response in DPR Korea

A long period of abnormally dry weather affecting DPR Korea has resulted in drought, impacting agricultural production, reducing access to water and leading to a deterioration of health, nutrition and sanitary conditions. Approximately 18 million people, dependent on Public Distribution System rations are affected and at risk of food insecurity, malnutrition and waterborne diseases.

As the United Nations and humanitarian partners step up their support to national relief efforts in the lead up to the peak of the lean season, US$6.3 million was allocated from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to respond to urgent needs. This funding enables UN agencies to rapidly scale up response operations and provide 1.3 million people, including 790,000 women and children, with life-saving assistance in four of the most affected provinces of South Hwanghae, North Hwanghae, South Pyongan and South Hamgyong.

“The availability of CERF funds allows us to kick-start life-saving response to communities affected by drought”, said the United Nations Resident Coordinator to the DPR Korea, Mr. Tapan Mishra. “The critical funds will help reduce incidence of diarrhoea and other non-communicable diseases, caused by a lack of access to safe water. The funds will also be used to combat malnutrition exacerbated by a lack of access to food, water and the increase incidence of waterborne diseases.”

CERF funds are insufficient to meet the urgent needs of all the affected communities, particularly where chronic humanitarian needs are exacerbated by the drought. DPR Korea remains critically underfunded, with only 36 per cent of funding received for humanitarian programmes in 2015.

“Additional funding sources continue to be urgently required as humanitarian operations in DPR Korea remain underfunded,” emphasized Mr. Mishra. “Humanitarian and political issues must be kept separate in order to ensure we can respond to the needs of the most vulnerable, especially women and children.”

Xinhua also reported on this (2015-8-19):

The UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) has 6.3 million U.S. dollars for drought response in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), and UN agencies and humanitarian partners are stepping up their support to national relief efforts in the lead up to the peak of the lean season, a UN spokesperson told reporters here Tuesday.

“The resident and humanitarian coordinator for the DPRK, Tapan Mishra, said that a long period of abnormally dry weather affecting the country has resulted in drought, impacting agricultural production, reducing access to water and leading to a deterioration of health, nutrition and sanitary conditions,” UN associate spokesperson Vannina Maestracci said at a daily news briefing.

“An estimated 18 million people, dependent on Public Distribution System rations, have been affected and are at risk of food insecurity, malnutrition and waterborne diseases,” she said.

Rainfall figures and information from humanitarian agencies and the government indicated that parts of the DPRK are already facing serious drought. North Hwanghae, South Hamgyong and South Hwanghae are most affected provinces by the decline in rainfall, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said in early July.

UNICEF officials have recently met with local health officials in affected provinces who confirm reports of significant increases in diarrhea among children, as the absence of rain threatens access to safe water and sanitation.

“Lack of rain reduces access to clean water and undermines effective hygiene, putting children’s lives at risk,” said UNICEF Regional Director Daniel Toole. “The UNICEF has already received reports that the incidence of diarrhea, globally a leading cause of death among young children — has increased seriously in the first six months of 2015 in the drought-affected provinces.”

The UNICEF has released prepositioned emergency supplies to help those in the worst-affected provinces, including water purification tablets, water storage containers and health supplies for children with severe acute malnutrition. Training on how to treat children with severe acute malnutrition has also been stepped up.

The UN agency will take time to ensure life-saving water. Hygiene, medical supplies, and the expertise to use them, are available at the levels required should the drought continue.

The drought-affected provinces are key sources of DPRK staple food crops. The UNICEF warned if the main harvest fails in those provinces food may become scarce across the country, which could dramatically increase the numbers of children at serious risk.

An earlier report indicated that CERF had delivered US$2m to the DPRK in the first half of 2015. According to VOA (2015-1-26):

U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos has allocated about $100 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to boost relief work in 12 countries, including North Korea.

But only about $2 million will be given to the communist country for the first half of this year, a 70 percent plunge from the beginning of last year.

The decrease comes as the need for emergency assistance has risen sharply in Syria and surrounding countries.

UPDATE 26 (2015-8-11): Reliefweb (UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) has published an update on the status of the 2015 drought:

For the last eighteen months, a long period of abnormally dry weather has affected DPR Korea (DPRK) affecting agricultural production, reducing access to water and leading to a deterioration of health, nutrition and sanitary conditions.

According to official meteorological data, all provinces in DPRK have experienced less rainfall than the average, however the difference in the level of rainfall was most severe in May and June. In May 2015, total rainfall was 57% below the average. A partial failure of the early harvest of 18% is expected. If weather conditions persist, the main crop harvest (September/October) is also likely to be severely impacted.

Provinces produce specific crops, with some producing more than provincial requirements and some with less. Provinces then import or export depending on their production levels which is then complemented by the Government food ration provided through the Public Distribution System (PDS). As the drought has severely affected the major food producing provinces this has impacted the whole country.

You can download the full report (PDF) here.

UPDATE 25 (2015-7-15): Writing in 38 North, Randall Ireson asks if the drought is over…

After a month of concern, DPRK farmers have received substantial rains in the last few days, which will at the very least break the current drought. Except for Sinuiju on the Chinese border, weather stations in the western farming region have reported between 3.5 and 7.5 inches of rain between July 10 and 14, with similar amounts falling in Kangwon province.

This is very good news, and will provide adequate moisture for the main crops for the immediate future. The next week is expected to be dry, but another smaller weather system is expected over the weekend. If rainfall for the remainder of the year is at or near normal amounts, adverse effects of the recent dry months will be limited. But July rainfall is still less than half of normal, and crops will need substantial rain into August to insure normal development.

Read the full story here.

UPDATE 24 (2015-7-14): According to Marcus Noland:

Well, the rains came and it appears that the worst will be avoided. According to the Ministry of Unification, after May rains only reached 55 percent of their normal levels, precipitation picked up in June, reaching 90 percent of the norm. While the fall harvest may be adversely affected, the normal June-July monsoon type rains are most critical for most crops (see figure 1 of the GIEWS Update if you’re really into it).

This doesn’t mean North Korea is completely out of the woods or some might not suffer. UNICEF is reporting an upsurge in children’s diarrhea, a leading cause of death among children worldwide. According to UNICEF Regional Director Daniel Toole, “Lack of rain reduces access to clean water and undermines effective hygiene, putting children’s lives at risk.” The agency reports increases in childhood diarrhea: a 71 percent increase in North Hwanghae province; a 34 percent increase in South Hamgyong province; and a 140 percent increase in South Hwanghae province for the first six months of the year. As I observed in an earlier post, the sensitivity of the population to such shocks is heightened by the pre-existing poor nutritional status of many children in North Korea.

To make matters worse, the FAO reported last week that authorities had cut the July distributions through the public distribution system (PDS) to “310 grams per person per day, a 25 percent decrease from the previous month. Between January and June 2015, the average food ration was 410 grams per person per day.” This isn’t good news, but not clear how bad this news is either: the PDS had become largely irrelevant for much of the population, particularly the most vulnerable groups which have more or less operated outside of it for 20 years. Nevertheless, even though most North Korean households do not rely on the PDS for most of their consumption needs, a cut in rations does hurt at the margin, and could be propagated throughout the society if those who do get food via the PDS turn to the market, putting upward pressure on prices there.

UPDATE 23 (2015-7-10): In an IFES report, the DPRK asserts that food production has increased over the last few years due to agricultural adjustment policies like the 6.28 Measures or the 5.30 Measures.

Despite Drought Last Year, Food Production Increased Due to Field Responsibility System

North Korea experienced its biggest drought in 100 years last year. However, North Korea claims that this did not affect its food production. North Korean authorities are claiming the main factor behind the increased food production is the will of farmers to produce more after the expansion of the “field management system,” or pojon tamdangje.

In an interview with the weekly newspaper, Tongil Sinbo, Chi Myong Su, director of the Agricultural Research Institute of the Academy of Agricultural Sciences of the DPRK commented, “the effectiveness of field management system (pojon) from cooperative farm production unit system (bunjo) is noticeable and succeeded in increasing grain production despite the adverse weather conditions.”

The field management system under the bunjo management system or the subworkteam management system divides the work unit consisting of 10-25 people into smaller units of 3-5 people, responsible for farming a smaller unit of a field. This is a measure to increase the “responsibility and ownership of farmers.”

From the July 1st Economic Management Improvement Measures enforced in 2002, the autonomy of cooperative farms and enterprises expanded. The “field management system” was piloted from early 2004 in Suan, North Hwanghae Province and Hoeryong, North Hamgyong Province, but was suspended soon afterward. However, this system is reported to have been implemented widely after the first National Conference of Subworkteam Leaders in the Agricultural Sector was held in Pyongyang in February 2014.

Economic principles behind the field responsibility system are stated as, “under the sub-work team structure, a smaller subworkteam consisting of 2 to 3 families or 3 to 4 people depending on the scale and means of production, is responsible for a specific field or plot (pojon) from planting to harvest stage to inspire farmers with enthusiasm for production by distributing the shares of production in accordance with the output of production planning.”

The newspaper added, “Despite the adverse weather conditions last year, the high grain yield was possible due to implementation of scientific farming methods and field management system to increase enthusiasm of farmers,” and “based on this experience, many cooperative farms across the country will expand subworkteam management system to field management system.”

Director Chi stated, “Since the field management system was implemented, farmers’ labor capacity increased to 95 percent. The planting time for corn and rice that took 20 to 30 days in the past is shortened to 10 to 15 days. In the autumn season, grain threshing that took 50 days is now only taking 10 days. This is changing the farming landscape.”

In addition, the distribution shares for farmers increased as well as the state’s procurement last year. This is attributed to “socialist distribution principles that distributed grains produced to farmers in-kind based on their efforts after excluding a specified amount of grain procured by the state.”

He added, “There are quite a number of farming households that received several decades worth of distribution after a year of farming. There is an increasing number of families with growing patriotism to increase the amount of grain procurement to the state.”

UPDATE 22 (2015-7-10): The South Korean Ministry of Unification reports that the drought has eased. According to Yonhap:

The Unification Ministry said Friday that a severe drought that hit North Korea appears to have considerably eased since June as rainfall has almost reached last year’s level in many areas.

North Korea has been grappling with what it called the worst drought in 100 years, sparking concerns about food shortages. South Korea earlier predicted that the North’s crop production could fall by as much as 20 percent if the lack of rain continues into early July.

The ministry said the dry spell seems to have eased in North Korea though several areas in the northeast and midwest provinces are still suffering from the drought.

“North Korea had suffered from severe drought across the nation until May. But it seemed that since July, the situation has considerably eased,” Jeong Joon-hee, ministry spokesman, said in a press briefing.

“But some provinces such as Hwanghae and Hamgyeong provinces are still grappling with prolonged drought, which warrants a close watch,” he added.

The ministry said that the average precipitation in May reached 54.5 percent of that recorded a year earlier. But in June, the rainfall increased to hit almost 90 percent of the level recorded in the same period last year.

Seoul earlier said that it is willing to provide support for North Korea in coping with the drought if the country makes a formal request. There has been no request from Pyongyang.

“Currently, the South government is not considering providing food aid to the North,” said a ministry official, asking not to be named.

UPDATE 21 (2015-7-10): VOA reports that food rations have been cut:

Drought-hit North Korea has reduced food distribution, an official of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said Thursday.

Cristina Coslet, FAO’s Global Information and Early Warning System officer in charge of Far East Asia, told VOA the North Korean government informed the agency that the country’s food ration for July was 310 grams per person per day, a 25 percent decrease from the previous month. Between January and June 2015, the average food ration was 410 grams per person per day.

Coslet said a severe drought is affecting the country’s crop production.

“We assume that this is mainly because early planted crops – wheat, barley, potato – decreased considerably,” said Coslet in a phone interview with VOA.

Coslet expected this year’s production of potatoes and winter wheat to drop by more than 20 percent from the previous year.

The FAO official said the early season harvest is relatively small, but it is an important food source for North Koreans.

“Spring crops are vital for food security, being an important food source for the lean season, which stretches from May to September,” said Coslet.

Coslet added, however, that it is still too early to estimate the final harvest, as rainfall in the coming weeks is crucial.

Despite the dismal forecast, the communist country is not known to have sought food assistance from U.N. agencies or Western countries.

UPDATE 20 (2015-7-9): Stephan Haggard offers analysis here.

UPDATE 19 (2015-7-9): UNICEF is worried about the impact of drought. According to the AFP:

A serious drought in North Korea requires urgent action to prevent the deaths of children already weakened by widespread malnutrition, the U.N. children’s fund, UNICEF, warned Thursday.

“The situation is urgent. But if we act now — by providing urgently needed expertise and pre-positioning supplies — we can save lives,” said UNICEF East Asia Regional Director Daniel Toole.

“If we delay until we are certain of crop failures, it may well be too late to save the most vulnerable children,” Toole said in a statement.

North Korea is currently suffering what its official media described last month as the “worst drought in 100 years.” It has severely impacted main rice-growing areas.

According to the U.N. World Food Program, early-harvest crops, mainly wheat and barley, have already been affected.

UNICEF said its personnel had recently met with local health officials in affected provinces who confirmed reports of significant increases in diarrhoea among children.

“Lack of rain reduces access to clean water and undermines effective hygiene, putting children’s lives at risk,” Toole said.

Concern about the impact of the drought is heightened by the existing poor nutritional status of many children in North Korea.

A 2012 study showed one-quarter of all North Korean children had symptoms of chronic malnutrition — a condition usually caused by a combination of unsafe water and poor sanitation, low food intake, and inadequate access to health services.

Toole said responding to the current drought crisis was difficult given North Korea’s isolation and the lack of funding for children-focused programs in the country.

But UNICEF has released pre-positioned emergency supplies to help those in the worst-affected provinces, including water purification tablets, water storage containers and health supplies for children with acute malnutrition.

UPDATE 18 (2015-7-9): A visitor to North Korea has sent this third drought poster. This poster was never published in Rodong Sinmun or KCNA. I have worked to translate it as best as possible, but still not quite there:


물절약형농법=An Agricultural Methods to Save Water
밍른봉 얕은갈이=Shallow tillage in early spring
영양알모재배 (?)=Cultivation methodology?
물원전학보관리 (?)=Management of water resources?
간단물대기=Simple irrigation
농업생산에서 일대 전환을!=A complete change/shift through agricultural production!

UPDATE 17 (2015-7-3): Associated Press covers drought in Unpha.

UPDATE 16 (2015-7-1): UN OCHA posts this document on the drought.

UPDATE 15 (2016-6-26): Associated Press covers drought in Hwangju County:

The protracted drought is heightening worries about North Korea’s ability to feed its people. Two-thirds of North Korea’s 24 million people faced chronic food shortages, the United Nations said earlier this month while asking donors for $198 million in humanitarian aid for the country.

Even in South Phyongan and North and South Hwanghae provinces, which are traditionally North Korea’s “breadbasket,” thousands of hectares (acres) of crops are withering away despite good irrigation systems, local officials said.

Reservoirs are drying up, creating irrigation problems for farmers, said Ri Sun Pom, chairman of the Rural Economy Committee of Hwangju County.

A group of female soldiers with yellow towels tied around their heads fanned out across a farm in Kohyon-ri, Hwangju county, North Hwanghae province, with buckets to help water the fields. An ox pulled a cart loaded with a barrel of water while fire engines and oil tankers were mobilized to help transport water.

The North Korean villages of Kohyon-ri and Ryongchon-ri were among several areas that journalists from The Associated Press visited in recent days.

Pak Tok Gwan, management board chairman of the Ryongchon Cooperative Farm in North Korea, said late last week that the farm could lose half its corn without early rain.

Mountainous North Korea, where less than 20 percent of the land is arable, has relied on outside food aid to help make up for a chronic shortage since natural disasters and outmoded agricultural practices led to a famine in the 1990s. North Korean farmers still face shortages of fuel, tractors, quality seeds and fertilizer, the U.N. said in a report earlier this month. Many irrigation systems rely on electrically powered pumping stations in a country with unstable power supplies, the report noted.

On Tuesday, North Korean state media reported record-high temperatures in Pyongyang and other cities in the southwest.

UPDATE 14 (2015-6-25): Yonhap offers a comprehensive story on the drought:

N. Korea claims worst drought in 100 years

SEOUL (Yonhap) — North Korea has claimed again it is suffering from the worst drought in 100 years, while some foreign experts expressed skepticism, saying that the North may be exaggerating the situation in hopes of getting international aid.

The (North) Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said on June 16 the worst drought in 100 years continues in the country, causing great damage to its agricultural fields.

The KCNA said rice-transplanting has been finished in more than 441,560 hectares of paddies across the country as of June 8, but at least 136,200 hectares of them are becoming parched.

The granaries in North and South Hwanghae provinces and South Pyongan and South Hamgyong provinces have been badly damaged, it claimed.

“Drought dries up rice-seedlings in nearly 80 percent and 58 percent of paddy fields in South and North Hwanghae provinces,” the North’s mouthpiece said, adding that the water level of reservoirs is at its lowest, while rivers and streams are getting dry.

North Korea experts expect the country’s grain production this year to drop substantially if the drought continues through July, which could deal a further blow to its chronic food shortage problem.

A severe drought may reduce North Korea’s rice harvest by 12 percent this year from a year earlier, a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. showed on June 20, warning of the worsening food shortage in the impoverished country.

The latest FAO report put North Korea’s rice production at an estimated 2.3 million tons for this year, compared with the country’s rice harvest of 2.6 million tons a year earlier.

The estimated production may be less than the average amount of rice produced annually over the past five years, it added.

About one-fourth of North Korea’s total 544,000 hectares of rice paddies are being affected by the drought, the report also noted.

The drought may also eat into the country’s production of double crop products, like potatoes, wheat and barley, according to the report, which put the estimated amount at 277,000 tons this year.

North Korea’s North Hwanghae Province, which accounts for a majority of crop production, is sustaining severe damage from the drought, the report said.

North Korea is also reported to be suffering from severe electricity shortages as power generation in hydro power plants, which account for more than 60 percent of the North’s electricity generation, has been hit hard by the drought.

Reuters reported on May 30 that many hydro power plants in North Korea have suspended operation, reducing the nation’s power generation by half.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, North Korea’s electricity generation stood at 19 billion kilowatts in 2012, less than 5 percent of South Korea’s electricity generation in the same year.

There are also reports that North Korea’s claim of the “worst drought in 100 years” was exaggerated.

The drought now gripping North Korea is not yet a “catastrophe,” a U.S. agricultural expert said on June 18, suggesting that the socialist country may be exaggerating the situation.

The report came days after the South’s unification ministry forecast that the North’s grain production will likely drop by up to 20 percent this year from 2014 if a shortage of rainfall continues until early July.

“We need to be a bit cautious before anticipating a new disaster,” said Randall Ireson in an article carried by the website 38 North, citing previous examples in which the North warned of a disaster, but the situation later improved.

“Early last year, the DPRK government also warned about a drought crisis, but later rains allowed a recovery — while rice production fell about 10 percent from 2013, maize production hit a new high,” he said.

In 2012, the North also claimed another “worst drought in a century,” but ultimately a harvest of 4.92 million tons of grain equivalent, which is consistent with the surrounding years, ensued, the expert said.

“The KCNA article claims that no rain has fallen in South and North Hwanghae provinces. That is hyperbole,” he said, adding that precipitation data show a total of 181 millimeters at Haeju and 102 mm at Sariwon since March.

“While substantially below the historical average (330 mm for Haeju, unavailable at Sariwon), it is hardly ‘no rain,'” he said.

Rain has also fallen in the last few days in what could be the beginning of an annual monsoon season, he said.

“So while one has a right to be concerned, it’s not yet a catastrophe. If the rains of the last few days presage the arrival of the monsoon, then all may turn out fine. If there’s no change in the next couple of weeks, then we should start to worry,” he said.

The U.S. State Department also has ruled out a plan to give aid to North Korea in relation with the current drought.

The Voice of America reported on June 3, quoting a department spokesman, that the department has no plan to offer aid to North Korea at present and North Korea has not asked the U.S. for help yet.

Meanwhile, South Korea said it is ready to support North Korea, Seoul’s pointman on inter-Korean affairs has said.

Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo said on June 24 that Seoul is willing to offer the necessary support to the North if the North’s situation deteriorates, but added that the South will wait for Pyongyang’s request.

“At a time when the two Koreas are coping with drought, I think that this situation can be a chance to promote cooperation,” Hong said in a meeting with a group of reporters. “If North Korea faces tougher situations, South Korea is willing to provide the necessary support to North Korea.”

He did not elaborate on the kinds of support.

Seoul, however, does not have any immediate plans to make such a proposal to the North pre-emptively, he said, hinting that Seoul needs Pyongyang’s request for help.

“The South is carefully reviewing how to approach this matter,” he added.

In 2014, the North reported its lowest amount of rainfall in 15 years and the United Nations has warned that North Korea is likely to suffer from serious food shortages this year.

The North has relied on international handouts since 1995 to help feed its people in the face of chronic food shortages.

A U.N. report showed that about 70 percent of North Korea’s 24.6 million people suffer from food shortages and 1.8 million, including children and pregnant women, are in need of nutrition.

Meanwhile, Hong expressed regret over the North’s boycott of the upcoming Summer Universiade in South Korea due to political reasons, saying that the sports competition could be a good chance for dialogue.

The North issued a rare statement on June 15 that it is ready to hold dialogue with Seoul if certain conditions are met, including the suspension of the South’s joint military drills with the United States. North Korea, however, took tough measures less than 10 days after the dialogue proposal, including the boycott of the Universiade and sentencing two South Koreans it has detained to lifetime compulsory labor, accusing them of spying for South Korea’s intelligence agency.

UPDATE 13 (2015-6-23): Associated Press publishes images of drought in Nampho.

UPDATE 12 (2015-6-22): Anna Fifield reports in the Washington Post that the chances of a famine returning are slim.

UPDATE 11 (2015-6-22): Marcus Noland offers analysis here.

UPDATE 10 (2015-6-20): Drought may cut N. Korea’s 2015 rice harvest by 12 pct: FAO. According to Yonhap:

A severe drought may reduce North Korea’s rice harvest by 12 percent this year from a year earlier, a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. showed Saturday, warning of the worsening food shortage in the communist country.

The recent FAO report put North Korea’s rice production at an estimated 2.3 million tons for this year, compared with the country’s rice harvest of 2.6 million tons a year earlier.

The estimated production may be less than the average amount of rice produced annually over the past five years, it added.

About one-fourth of North Korea’s total 544,000 hectares of rice paddies are being affected by the drought, the report also noted.

The drought may also eat into the country’s production of double crop products, like potato, wheat and barley, according to the report, which put the estimated amount to 277,000 tons this year.

North Korea’s North Hwanghae province, which accounts for a majority of crop production, is sustaining severe damage from the drought, the report said.

UPDATE 9 (2015-6-19): The Daily NK is reporting in an article price information that is different than its exchange rate/rice price table. Here is a small table that shows the difference:


The exchange rate and rice price differences are not all that significant, and could be related to variations in when they were collected. However, the article text implies that potatoes are the only crop seeing more significant price increases at the moment (and only in Hyesan):


According to an inside source, the cost of potatoes in Yangkang Province’s Hyesan Agricultural Market is approximately 2,000 KPW per kg. This represents a massive 1,300 KPW rise when compared to last year’s prices. It’s quite rare to see the cost of potatoes shoot up to the 2,000 KPW mark. This has sent residents into a minor panic. For the same price, it would have been possible to buy about three times as many potatoes this same time last year. This is putting a strain on many residents’ ability to put together a nutritious meal. At the Hyesan jangmadang, corn is selling for 1,800 KPW per kg. Next to that figure, it’s plain to see that the relative cost of potatoes is exorbitantly high. Residents can protest, but at the end of the day, they don’t have any better options.

The article lists other prices, but does not explain any price changes, so I do not know if they have significnatly increased:

Moving along, the cost of 1 kg of corn was 2,400 KPW in Pyongyang and Sinuiju and 2,600 KPW in Hyesan. One kg of pork was selling at 14,000 KPW in Pyongyang, 14,300 KPW in Sinuiju, and 15,000 KPW in Hyesan. Gasoline was trading at 9,450 KPW per kg in Pyongyang and Sinuiju and at 8,450 KPW per kg in Hyesan. Finally, 1 kg of diesel fuel was selling at 5,100 KPW in Pyongyang and 5,200 KPW in Sinuiju and Hyesan. This has been a weekly rundown on North Korea’s latest market prices.

And if you noticed in the above two quotes, the article gives two prices for the price of corn in Hyesan (1,800 and 2,600), so I am not sure what to make of that.

UPDATE 8 (2015-6-18): Marcus Noland offers analysis here and here.

UPDATE 7 (2015-6-18): China Says it is willing to help drought-hit North Korea (Reuters):

China’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that the government was willing to help drought-stricken North Korea, after the isolated country said it was suffering its worst drought in a century.

“Our sympathy goes out to the People’s Republic of Korea that is suffering from extremely serious drought, and it is our hope that the government and people will overcome the disaster as soon as possible,” spokesman Lu Kang told a daily news briefing, using North Korea’s official name.

“China is willing to provide the aid that is needed by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” he added, without providing details.

The US says it has no plans to assist the DPRK in the event of a drought. According to Yonhap:

The United States said Wednesday it has no plans to provide food aid to North Korea amid concern food shortages in the impoverished communist nation could significantly worsen due to what the country calls the worst drought in a century.

“I’ve seen the reports about the drought. I don’t have any specific information about the validity of the drought,” U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said at a regular briefing in response to a question about the North’s report.

Asked if the U.S. would consider providing food aid, Kirby said, “I’m not aware of any such plans. No.”

UPDATE 6 (2015-6-18): In 38 North, Randall Ireson reports we should take a care when assessing the impact of North Korea’s drought.

The KCNA article claims that no rain has fallen in South and North Hwanghae provinces. That is hyperbole. Precipitation data show a total of 181 mm at Haeju and 102 mm at Sariwon since March. While substantially below the historical average (330 mm for Haeju, unavailable at Sariwon), it is hardly “no rain.” In both locations there were substantial rains in the last several days (61 mm in Haeju, 48 mm in Sariwon). Other locations show a similar pattern of sharply lower rainfall than average, but a recent uptick: Pyongyang has had 143 mm since March, 27 mm in the last week, compared to a March-June average of 230 mm. Anju reported 202 mm since March, 78 mm last week, against a March-June average of 320 mm.[7] So while one has a right to be concerned, it’s not yet a catastrophe. If the rains of the last few days presage the arrival of the monsoon, then all may turn out fine. If there’s no change in the next couple of weeks, then we should start to worry.

Read the full report here.

UPDATE 5 (2015-6-18): The Daily NK reports that the price of rice is basically constant in Pyongyang and Sinuiju this year, though the price shows significant variation in Hyesan:


UPDATE 4 (2015-6-16): KCNA reports drought this year:

The worst drought in 100 years continues in the DPRK, causing great damage to its agricultural field.

According to data available, rice-transplanting has been finished in over 441 560 hectares of paddy fields across the country as of June 8, but at least 136 200 hectares of them are parching up.

The granaries including North and South Hwanghae provinces and South Phyongan and South Hamgyong provinces have been badly damaged.

Drought dries up rice-seedlings in nearly 80 percent and 58 percent of paddy fields in South and North Hwanghae provinces.

According to the State Hydro-meteorological Administration, no rainfall has been witnessed in North and South Hwanghae provinces.

Water level of reservoirs stands at the lowest, while rivers and streams getting dry.

Other crops are planted in paddy fields of drought-stricken areas as part of the campaign to reduce damage.

UPDATE 3 (2015-6-11): WFP on standby for possible N. Korea drought. According to Yonhap:

The United Nations food agency is closely monitoring the weather conditions in North Korea in order to send emergency assistance there in case of a protracted dry spell, the agency’s regional director in Asia said Wednesday.

South Korea said a day earlier that food production in North Korea may fall by 20 percent on-year if the current drought continues until early July.

“The concern is going to grow week by week until we get closer to the traditional July harvest,” David Kaatrud of the World Food Program (WFP) told Yonhap News Agency in an interview. “So our role is to not only be vigilant … but also stand ready should assistance be required to change our operation toward relief related to any type of food insecurity.”

Last month, North Korea received less than 60 percent of the average monthly rainfall recorded between 1981 and 2010. Precipitation reached a 15-year low last year, with the U.N. warning of severe food shortages should the dry weather there continue.

The WFP has mainly focused on providing nutrition to the most vulnerable, or about 2.4 million children and women, for the past two years.

It recently extended the two-year project, slated to end this month, through the end of 2015.

“We need enough time to refine the intervention we’re doing now,” he said. “The broad contours of what we will be doing next would be very similar to what you see now — it will continue to be focused on a targeted nutrition intervention because that’s what’s required there.”

He reiterated that the WFP was ready to shift its targeted intervention to a more widespread one in case of a severe food crisis.

“But we don’t have any indications (of that) yet,” he said.

The North has relied on international assistance since 1995 to help feed its people in the face of chronic food shortages.

About 70 percent of its people lack food and 1.8 million, including children and pregnant women, are malnourished, according to U.N. data.

The WFP is the U.N.’s largest humanitarian aid arm, accounting for more than 60 percent of the world’s food assistance.

South Korea’s contributions to WFP operations globally reached US$31 million last year.

The two sides held their first annual consultations Wednesday, cementing their commitment for the Zero Hunger Challenge pioneered by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The challenge aims to ensure that every person has a right to adequate food.

UPDATE 2 (2015-6-9): N. Korea’s crop production may fall 20% in drought. According to Yonhap:

North Korea is likely to see its food production fall by up to 20 percent this year from 2014 if a shortage of rainfall continues until early July, a Unification Ministry official said Tuesday.

In May, precipitation in North Korea reached 57 percent of the average rainfall recorded between 1981 and 2010, according to the official.

In 2014, the North reported its smallest rainfall in 15 years and the United Nations has warned that North Korea is likely to suffer from serious food shortages this year due to drought.

North Korea’s crop production could decline by 15 to 20 percent this year compared to last year if it continues to see a rainfall shortage until early July, the official said.

The North is expected to see its food production fall by only 5 to 10 percent if the lack of rainfall continues into early June. In that case, North Korea is believed to be focusing on producing maize as an alternative to rice.

“This year, the supply of fertilizer is not smooth, compared with last year,” said the official, asking not to be named.

The North has relied on international handouts since 1995 to help feed its people in the face of chronic food shortages.

A U.N. report showed that about 70 percent of North Korea’s 24.6 million people suffer from food shortages and 1.8 million, including children and pregnant women, are in need of nutrition.

Last year, the North suffered from a severe drought in the spring, but managed to produce crops at a level similar to that of 2013 due mainly to the use of preserved water.

The official said that the North’s agricultural reforms might have helped it maintain the food production last year, but this year’s situation may bode ill, given that fertilizer availability is worse.

In 2012, the North announced the so-called “6.28 measures” that centered on allowing farmers to keep 30 percent of their production quota plus any excess over the quota. Last year, it unveiled a new set of reforms that call for raising the farmers’ portion to 60 percent.

UPDATE 1 (2015-6-3): KCNA reports that two posters have been produced to instruct/motivate people to overcome hardships brought on by drought:


According to Anna Fifield at the Washington Post, the posters say  “Everybody fight against the drought!” and “Let’s all fight powerfully against the drought!”.

ORIGINAL POST (2015-5-31): On 2015-5-11 I reported in Radio Free Asia that many of North Korea’s reservoirs have shown a fall in water levels from 2012 to 2014. This was more evidence of a drought that had struck the country in 2014, and that if it continued, it could affect food and electricity production.

On May 30, Reuters reports that the UN is warning of another drought:

A drought in North Korea could lead to huge food shortages this year, the top U.N. official in the country told Reuters in an interview.

Rainfall in 2014, the lowest in records going back 30 years, was 40-60 percent below 2013 levels, and reservoirs are very low, said Ghulam Isaczai, the U.N. resident coordinator.

“We’re extremely concerned with the impact of drought which will affect the crop this year severely. And we might be faced with another major incident of food availability or even hunger,” said Isaczai. “It is going to create a huge deficit between the needs and what is available.”

If El Nino weather conditions bring more drought this year, the situation in 2016 could be even worse, he warned.

“This is currently the rice-planting season. Normally they submerge the land almost a week or two in advance. But this year, I’ve seen it myself – they’re doing it in the dry, actually planting rice. So what we’re hearing right now is that they’re switching to maize and corn because that requires less water.”

Some farmers, already struggling with a shortage of fuel and equipment, have resorted to using buckets to water seedlings, he said. The effect of North Korea’s lack of agricultural infrastructure such as irrigation systems was visible on the border, where “dry and harsh” North Korean land met green fields in China.

A famine in the 1990s killed as many as 1 million North Koreans but recently many international donors have been reluctant to help because of Pyongyang’s restrictions on humanitarian workers and international concerns over its nuclear ambitions.

“Let’s not make aid political,” Isaczai said.


The United Nations provides nutritional supplements to schools and hospitals but does not have the funds to supply rice for North Korea’s 24.6 million population, 70 percent of whom are already classed as “food insecure”.

“How are they going to fill this gap? I think they have reached out to some countries – to India, to China, to Russia,” Isaczai said.

The lack of water has dried up rivers and streams and has also hit electricity supply, which was at its worst in winter when hydroelectric power was restricted to reserve water for the rice-planting season.

“What the government confirmed to me is that they’re operating at 50 percent of capacity in terms of power generation. A lot of it is now related to water,” the U.N. official added.

Blackouts in Pyongyang last anything from 8-9 hours to a whole 24 hours and many hospitals are unable to operate.

Isaczai said he thought the food situation would not be as bad as in previous major droughts, since communities were now more resilient and might have some reserves.

New farming rules – which allow smaller, family-sized teams to run farms – meant more efficiency and ownership, he said, with families allowed to keep livestock and farmers able to keep surplus crops.

“Also there are small markets emerging in rural areas, like kind of farmers’ markets where people can barter or trade or sell things.”

Some people were also selling food on the street, which might be a few eggs or apples, enabling families to supplement the food they get from the national ration system.

The reforms may not be fast or widespread, Isaczai said, and the impact may take three to five years to be felt.

The government also set a target last year of building 20,000 greenhouses, he said, which would make more vegetables available and diversify diets, but the country needs help to build them.

Read the full story here:
U.N. warns of coming hunger in North Korea
Tom Miles


DPRK looks to boost energy supply

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015

According to the Associated Press:

North Korea is racing to boost its electricity supply by up to 50 percent with the completion of several generating stations by the end of the year and is pushing alternative resources like solar — already used extensively in the countryside — to ease its chronic shortages, a government expert told the Associated Press in Pyongyang.

In an unusually high-profile campaign, the North has mobilized legions of shock brigades to complete two large hydropower projects by Oct. 10. As is common with major North Korean construction efforts, the deadline is a date of national significance: the 70th anniversary of its ruling party.

Officials hope a noticeable increase will provide tangible proof that the party is working to improve the impoverished and heavily sanctioned nation’s standard of living. Kim Kyong Il, a senior researcher at Pyongyang’s Academy of Social Sciences, said the goal is a 20 to 50 percent increase in power compared with the 2014 level.

How effective its latest ‘‘speed campaign’’ will be is an open question.

Even achieving its target would leave North Korea with a small fraction of what it needs to fuel a vibrant economy or even meet some basic needs of its population. Experts stress the North needs more than just new power stations — it must improve its infrastructure to get the electricity where it is needed, secure spare parts and conduct sustained maintenance to keep the plants themselves going.

Supplying its industries and 24 million citizens with even a bare minimum of electricity has long been one of North Korea’s biggest problems, particularly after the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. Since then, the international community has offered to help the North expand its power grid, if it agrees to dismantle its nuclear weapons program, but to no avail.

North Korea’s total, nationwide electricity output is believed to be about 15 terawatt hours per year, give or take 10 or 20 percent. That would only be about enough to power Seoul, the South Korean capital of 10 million, for less than four months.

It’s been estimated — though never confirmed by Pyongyang — that about one-fifth of North Korea’s electricity is diverted to its 1 million-person military. Moreover, a disproportionate amount of the nation’s power is used to light up Pyongyang, where less than one-tenth of the population resides.

Kim, the government expert, said the North is shifting its focus in line with leader Kim Jong Un’s promise to improve the lives of the North Korean people and invigorate its economy.

He said North Korea is exploring wind and tidal power sources and added that solar already provides as much as half of the electricity in some rural areas. Small solar panels, seen by outside experts as a grassroots coping mechanism where state-provided energy is woefully lacking, are a common sight on apartment balconies and some countryside farms.

‘‘Our country regards electricity as the engine of the national economy, so the state is increasing investment in this field,’’ he said. He added that a major portion of the 2015 national budget that didn’t go to defense has been earmarked for investment in the power sector, though he refused to give precise figures.

Kim said two major projects — Mount Paektu Songun Youth Power Station units No. 1 and No. 2 and Huichon Power Station units 5, 8, 9 and 10 along the Chongchon River — are expected to be completed in time for the anniversary. The hydropower station on Mount Paektu, near the Chinese border, was started under Kim Jong Un’s father, the late Kim Jong Il, but had been plagued by delays.

State media in the North, officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, have portrayed the race to complete the megaprojects as a heroic demonstration of national will.

‘‘The young people of the DPRK have gone through thick and thin in hearty response to the call of the party to flatten even mountains, empty seas and conquer space,’’ the ruling party’s newspaper said in a recent editorial. ‘‘Now is the time for them to powerfully demonstrate their courage, unity and fighting capability before the world.’’

But Kim acknowledged it’s hard to predict how much power the units will actually produce.

‘‘If the power stations now under construction are completed, tens of thousands of kilowatts will be generated,’’ he said. ‘‘But this is only the capacity of the power stations. Actual output differs, so we will have to wait and see how much it comes out to.’’

Kim said North Korea relies on hydropower for 60 percent of its power grid, and on coal-fired thermal power for most of the rest. Both are vulnerable: hydropower to droughts and freezing, coal to supply and quality problems.

Kim said a ‘‘once in a century’’ drought last year caused a 10 percent drop in the output of hydropower stations, which he said was largely offset by increased coal power output. Not surprisingly, rural areas, which are low on the priority list for energy allocations, except at rice harvest time, were hardest hit by shortages.

David von Hippel, senior associate with the Nautilus Institute think tank, which has done extensive research on North Korea’s energy situation, said he doesn’t believe the 20-50 percent boost is plausible.

He said the additional electricity from the plants could be ‘‘potentially very significant to the surrounding area, or to whatever area of electricity demand the plant is connected to,’’ but not very significant on the national scale.

Still, he added, assessing the North’s capacities, and even its needs, is complicated because Pyongyang makes so little information public. North Koreans also long ago adjusted their lifestyles to the realities of scarcity — for example, by not buying appliances or equipment that require electricity.

‘‘The country has lived under a shortfall for so many years that it’s difficult to know what demand would be if there were enough power,’’ he said.

I also wrote an article in 38 North on a new coal power plant being constructed in Kangdong County.

Read the full story here:
North Korea in rush to boost electricity supply
Associated Press
Eric Talmadge


Ten power plants on Chongchon River under construction to increase power supply to Pyongyang

Friday, December 19th, 2014

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

Japan-based pro-North Korea media outlet Choson Sinbo reported on December 11 that ten hydroelectric dams were being constructed along the Chongchon River stretching over a hundred kilometers.

According to the news, Chongchon River (217 km long) is one of the largest rivers in North Korea’s central region, and derives its name from its crystal clear water.

Multi-tiered power plants are being constructed, a project which runs across Jagang, North and South Pyongan Provinces, spanning approximately 77km. The project consists of ten small and medium-sized power plants of varying generating capacity.

The construction of the dams on the Chongchon River began in January 2013 and is considered as a second phase construction following the completion of the Huichon Power Station (in Jagang Province) in April 2012.

Huichon Power Station 1 and 2 were built in the first phase. The ten plants currently under construction can somewhat be considered as Huichon Power Stations No. 3 to 12.

The Huichon Power Stations 1 and 2 have a maximum power generation capacity of 300,000 kilowatts (KW). Stations 3 to 12 are expected to generate about 120,000 KW. Like the Huichon Power Stations No. 1 and No. 2, the new power plants are expected to provide power to Pyongyang City through direct transmission lines. It is expected that this will address the power shortage problem in Pyongyang.

The city, provincial, and central government agencies are overseeing the construction of the power plants and about 14,000 people have been mobilized for this project. The news reported that “young women’s shock brigades” were seen at the construction sites.

The news reported that many slogan banners are posted across the construction sites that read, “Once Determined, Korea (Choson) Will Accomplish!”, “All towards the Creation of Choson Speed”, and “Let Us Take Charge of Pyongyang’s Night lights.”

The Chongchon River power plants are expected to be completed by next October on the occasion of celebrating the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party of Korea.


DPRK building new coal-powered plant in Pyongyang

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014


Pictured above is the new plant. Learn more about it on this new article at 38 North.


North Korea shows great interest in micro hydropower

Thursday, November 13th, 2014

According to the Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES):

North Korea, which has been focusing its efforts on increasing energy production, is currently paying close attention to micro hydropower systems. Micro hydropower is a type of hydroelectric power system which can effectively harness industrial water and/or hydroelectric resources from water and sewage systems to produce electricity.

A November 2, 2014 article published in the North Korea Workers’ Party’s official newspaper, the Rodong Sinmun, reported on the advantages and efficiency of micro hydropower, of which it claims North Korea has implemented and is currently using. The harnessing of industrial and sewer system water was once a mere point of interest for North Korea; but according to the newspaper article, a variety of micro hydropower equipment has since been installed and is currently generating up to 100kW of power for the nation.

The newspaper explained, “Industrial waste water used for cooling or cleaning in factories has a fixed height and pressure, and can be used as a water power resource to produce electricity due to its stable quantity and flow rate. . . . In water and sewage systems, catchment areas and sewage purification plants have freefalling water which can be used as a water power resource, and in air conditioning systems, the circulating cooling water can also be potentially utilized.”

The article also praised micro hydropower systems for their low initial investment cost and operation fees.

According to the Rodong Sinmun, construction costs for the levees used in a hydroelectric power plant can account for over fifty percent of the total construction costs of the system. But, because micro hydropower systems can be installed and connected directly to existing pipes, costs are reduced dramatically, and the low-flow, low-pressure nature of the micro hydropower system allows for additional savings on materials such as waterwheels and generators.

The costs of installing a micro hydropower system may be double that of a diesel-powered generator, but when taking the cost of fuel into account, micro hydropower systems are said to be much more economical in the long term.

The newspaper also reported about one micro hydropower facility which even utilizes the piping and freefalling water from their service-water purifier. According to the article, the system produces enough electricity to power the water purification and also net a 55kW energy surplus.


North Korea encourages completion of large-scale projects to coincide with 2015 Party Foundation Day

Thursday, June 12th, 2014

Institute for Far Eastern Studies (IFES)

North Korea is attempting to complete the construction of a large scale stockbreeding base and a power plant as symbols of “self-rehabilitation” by October 10, 2015 to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the Worker’s Party of Korea (WPK). Adorned with these economic achievements, next year’s Party Foundation Day will seek to inspire confidence in the North Korean people and strengthen the foundation of the Kim Jong Un regime.

The Choson Sinbo, a news affiliate of the pro-North Korean General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, published an article on June 2, 2014 which introduces the Sepho County area of Kangwon Province and the current situation of construction at the stockbreeding complex, reporting that “all construction is planned to be completed by next year’s Party Foundation Day.” Sepho Tableland Construction Company, which began construction of the Sepho County stockbreeding complex toward the end of 2012, is a national company propagandized by Kim Jong Un as the “Great Plan for the Transformation of Nature.”

The construction of the North Pyongan Chongchon River Power Plant, another one of North Korea’s large scale projects, began in January 2013 and is also projected to be finished by next year’s anniversary. Secretary of the Worker’s Party of Korea Kim Ki Nam was quoted at an April 10, 2014 Pyongyang mass rally, saying, “We must magnificently complete the Chongchon River Power Plant and Sepho County Stockbreeding Base by the Party’s 70th anniversary as a proud gift to our motherland.”

The Chongchon River Power Plant and the Sepho Tableland have been chosen as the two main tasks to be completed in celebration of next year’s anniversary of the foundation of the WPK. The news outlet of the Worker’s Party, the Rodong Sinmun, pointed out in a May 11, 2014 article that the Chongchon River Power Plant will help alleviate the nation’s electricity shortage and stand as a symbol for the nation’s “self-rehabilitation spirit.”

In the past, North Korea has revealed new buildings and symbolic structures before and after major anniversaries in order to brighten the public mood; however, the Kim Jong Un regime’s decision to undertake two large-scale construction projects and finish them both by the anniversary date is worthy of attention.

North Korea is expected to raise their agricultural production goals based on the successful completion of the Sepho Tableland and Chongchon River Power Plant. In his letter to the National Conference of Agricultural Subworkteam Leaders in February 2014, Kim Jong Un stated, “From the year 2015, when we will greet the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party of Korea, [the agricultural sector] must hit higher grain production targets.”

Coinciding with the projected agricultural increase, the Choson Sinbo reported that production of livestock will also increase with the completion of the Sepho Tableland: “Annual meat production is expected to increase in stages, from five thousand tons in 2017 to ten thousand tons annually by the year 2020.” Provided that these two large-scale projects can be completed according to plan and produce successful results, it is expected that Kim Jong Un’s position within the Party will be strengthened considerably.

As much as the Sepho Tableland and Chongchon River Power Plant give confidence to the North Korean people that their food shortage problem is being solved, it is also assumed that Kim Jong Un will use the success of these projects in order to begin a legacy of his own “achievements.”


An Updated Summary of Energy Supply and Demand in the Democratic People’s Republic Of Korea (DPRK)

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

The Nautilus Institute has published a report on energy supply in the DPRK by David F. von Hippel and Peter Hayes. You can read it here.

Here is a small section of the paper:

Overall energy use per capita in the DPRK as of 1990 was relatively high, primarily due to inefficient use of fuels and reliance on coal. Coal is more difficult to use with high efficiency than oil products or gas. Based on our estimates, primary commercial energy[19] use in the DPRK in 1990 was approximately 70 GJ per capita, approximately three times the per capita commercial energy use in China in 1990, and somewhat over 50 percent of the 1990 per capita energy consumption in Japan (where 1990 GDP per-capita was some ten to twenty times higher than the DPRK). This sub-section provides a brief sketch of the DPRK energy sector, and some of its problems. Much more detailed reviews/estimates of energy demand and supply in the DPRK in 1990, 1996, and particularly in 2000, 2005, and 2008 through 2010, are provided in later chapters of this report.

The industrial sector is the largest consumer of all commercial fuels—particularly coal—in the DPRK. The transport sector consumes a substantial fraction of the oil products used in the country. Most transport energy use is for freight transport; the use of personal transport in the DPRK is very limited. The residential sector is a large user of coal and (in rural areas, though more recently, reportedly, in urban and peri-urban areas as well) biomass fuels. The military sector (by our estimates) consumes an important share of the refined oil products used in the country. The public/commercial and services sectors in the DPRK consume much smaller shares of fuels supplies in the DPRK than they do in industrialized countries, due primarily to the minimal development of the commercial sector in North Korea. Wood and crop wastes are used as fuels in the agricultural sector, and probably in some industrial subsectors as well.

Key energy-sector problems in the DPRK include:

*Inefficient and/or decaying infrastructure: Much of the energy-using infrastructure in the DPRK is reportedly (and visibly, to visitors to the country) antiquated and/or poorly maintained. Buildings apparently lack significant, and often any, insulation, and the heating circuits in residential and other buildings for the most part apparently cannot be controlled by residents. Industrial facilities are likewise either aging or based on outdated technology, and often (particularly in recent years) are operated at less-than-optimal capacities (from an energy-efficiency point of view).

*Suppressed and latent demand for energy services: Lack of fuels in many sectors of the DPRK economy has apparently caused demand for energy services to go unmet. Electricity outages are one obvious source of unmet demand, but there are also reports, for example, that portions of the DPRK fishing fleet have been idled for lack of diesel fuel. Residential heating is reportedly restricted in the winter (and some observers report that some public-sector and residential buildings have not received heat at all in recent years) to conserve fuel, resulting in uncomfortably cool inside temperatures.

The problem posed by suppressed and latent demand for energy services is that when and if supply constraints are removed there is likely to be a surge in energy (probably particularly electricity) use, as residents, industries, and other consumers of fuels increase their use of energy services toward desired levels. (This is a further argument, as elaborated later in this report, for making every effort to improve the efficiency of energy use in all sectors of the DPRK economy as restraints on energy supplies are reduced.)

*Lack of energy product markets: Compounding the risk of a surge in the use of energy services is the virtual lack of energy product markets in the DPRK. Without fuel pricing reforms, there will be few incentives for households and other energy users to adopt energy efficiency measures or otherwise control their fuels consumption. Recent years have seen limited attempts by the DPRK government to reform markets for energy products. Some private markets exist for local products like firewood, and some commercial fuels have in recent years reportedly been traded “unofficially” (on the black market), but for the most part, energy commodity markets in the DPRK essentially do not exist[20]. Energy consumers are also unlikely, without a massive and well-coordinated program of education about energy use and energy efficiency, to have the technical know-how to choose and make good use of energy efficiency technologies, even when and if such technologies are made available.

The DPRK’s energy sector needs are vast, and at the same time, as indicated by the only partial listing of problems many of these needs are sufficiently interconnected as to be particularly daunting to address. The DPRK’s energy sector needs include rebuilding/replacement of many of its power generation and almost all of its substation equipment, repair, replacement, and/or improvement of coal mine production equipment and safety systems, updating of oil refineries, improvement or replacement of most if its energy-using equipment, including coal-fired boilers, electric motors and drives, transport systems, and many other items, modernization of energy use throughout the country, rebuilding of the DPRK forest stocks, and a host of other needs. As one example of the interrelations of energy problems in the DPRK, renovating the DPRK’s coal mining sector is made more difficult because coal mines lack electricity due to electricity sector problems, and electricity generators in some cases have insufficient coal to supply power demand because of coal mine problems and problems with transporting coal to power plants.


Why is the DPRK pursuing CDM carbon credits?

Saturday, November 9th, 2013

Benjamin Habib writes in the East Asia Forum:

North Korea is a curious case among Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It is not an active member of any specific negotiating bloc and has been a sporadic attendee at UNFCCC Conference of Parties gatherings, where its delegates are generally silent participants. Why then does North Korea engage with the international climate change regime?

We do see a rhetorical commitment in reporting documentation, along with various capacity-building programs, which do have greenhouse gas mitigation as a spin-off effect. However, it is the capacity-building dimension that appears to be the primary motivation for North Korea’s UNFCCC engagement. We know that the DPRK has agricultural productivity problems independent of climate vulnerability in terms of soil infertility, land degradation and labour-intensive production in addition to its small arable land base.

North Korea’s reporting documents to the Rio Conventions (a regime made up of the UNFCCC, the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification) strongly emphasise capacity-building to address these weaknesses. The documents refer to hillside land reclamation, seed propagation and selective breeding programs to produce crops with greater climate tolerance, as well as programs to improve the efficiency of pre- and post-harvest cultivation practices and soil fertility-building projects.

It is also evident that North Korea is using the UNFCCC as a vehicle to upgrade its energy sector. North Korea’s energy sector problems are well known, plagued by problems like liquid fuel shortages, bottlenecks in coal supply chains for electricity generation, and poor electricity generation and transmission infrastructure, all of which is a significant drag on the national economy.

The UNFCCC offers capacity-building opportunities for North Korea’s energy sector through the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which is one of the key mechanisms for cooperative greenhouse gas abatement embedded within the Kyoto Protocol. The CDM was designed with the dual purpose of assisting developed states to comply with their emission reduction commitments, and assisting developing countries with sustainable development.

North Korea has six verified CDM projects which consist of developing hydropower installations in partnership with Topič Energo, a Czech company. There are further projects under consideration in the CDM verification process. Indeed, the CDM contains a number of compelling possibilities for North Korea, including opportunities for foreign direct investment and technology transfer to upgrade the North Korean energy sector.

Some suggest that North Korea is milking the CDM as a source of foreign currency revenue through the sale of carbon credits. CDM projects create certified emission reduction credits that developing country parties can sell in international carbon markets. Yet a quick appraisal of the numbers indicates why revenue potential is unlikely to be North Korea’s primary motive for CDM participation: North Korea’s CDM projects have generated just under 200,000 carbon credits, which are worth just over US$1 million at the July 2013 EU carbon market spot price of between US$5–6 per ton. This is clearly not a large revenue source, though there is potential for revenues to increase as North Korea’s CDM portfolio expands.

Previous posts on the DPRK’s foray into the UN carbon market can be found here.

Read the full article here:
North Korea’s surprising status in the international climate change regime
East Asia Forum
Benjamin Habib


Foundations of Energy Security for the DPRK: 1990-2009

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

The Nautilus Institute has put together an amazing research paper on the DPRK’s energy sector. I cannot understate the value of the quality/quantity of facts/figures/tables in this research.

You can download the PDF here.

I have also added it to my DPRK Economic statistics Page.

Here is the introduction:

Energy demand and supply in general—and, arguably, demand for and supply of electricity in particular—have played a key role in many high-profile issues involving North Korea, and have played and will play a central role in the resolution of the ongoing confrontation between North Korea and much of the international community over the North’s nuclear weapons program. Energy sector issues will continue to be a key to the resolution of the crisis, as underscored by the formation of a Working Group under the Six-Party Talks that was (and nominally, still is) devoted to the issue of energy and economic assistance to the DPRK.

The purpose of this report is to provide policy-makers and other interested parties with an overview of the demand for and supply of the various forms of energy used in the DPRK in six years during the last two decades:

  • 1990, the year before much of the DPRK’s economic and technical support from the Soviet Union was withdrawn;
  • 1996, thought by some to be one of the most meager years of the difficult economic 1990s in the DPRK; and 2000, a year that has been perceived by some observers as a period of modest economic “recovery” in the DPRK, as well as a marker of the period before the start, in late 2002, of a period of renewed political conflict between the DPRK, the United States, and it neighbors in Northeast Asia over the DPRK’s nuclear weapons development program; and
  • 2005, also a year in which observers have again noted an upward trend in some aspects of the DPRK economy, as well as the most recent year for which any published estimates on the DPRK’s energy sector and economy are available.
  • 2008, the last year in which the DPRK received heavy fuel oil from its negotiating partners in the Six-Party talks; and
  • 2009, the most recent year for which we have analyzed the DPRK’s energy sector.

Pyongyang’s winter power supply

Friday, December 7th, 2012


Pictured above: Huichon Power Station No. 2. Learn more about the power station here and here.

According to Radio Free Asia (RFA):

The power supply in the region had been significantly more consistent since the completion in April of the Huichon No. 2 Power Station—a hydroelectric plant located at a dam in Jagang province, about 175 kilometers (109 miles) northwest of the capital.

But the Pyongyang resident, who spoke to RFA on condition of anonymity during a recent trip to China, said that the dry season had rapidly depleted the dam’s water supply, hampering its rate of operation.

“The situation of Pyongyang’s electricity—which seemed okay until October—has returned to pre-dam levels,” the source said.

“I heard it is because of a lack of water during the winter.”

According to a report by the Associated Press, North Korean officials had touted the dam’s ability to provide “half of Pyongyang’s energy needs” as recently as June.

But even then, the AP reported, citing the plant’s general manager Kim Su Gil, drought had left the river above the dam too low for the power station to reach full capacity.

Select priorities

With the further lack of water during the winter dry season, the source in Pyongyang said, the dam was able to provide regular power to only a few select buildings in the capital, which included monuments to the Kim family regime and dwellings for the city’s elite.

“Only the Kim idolization facilities, apartments for Central Party officials, the [43-story] Koryo Hotel and [the new] Changjeon St. [housing development] have 24-hour electricity, while the districts where ordinary people live can only use electricity for five hours a day,” the source said.

North Korea maintains gathering places for citizens to show their allegiance to ruler Kim Jong Un, his father Kim Jong Il, who died of a heart attack in December last year, and his grandfather Kim Il Sung, the nation’s founder.

The 100,000-home development underway on Changjeon St., which former leader Kim Jong Il ordered after reportedly declaring the streets of the capital to be “pitiful” upon his return from a trip to China, and the Koryo Hotel, the second-largest operating hotel in the city, are two of Pyongyang’s few showpieces.

Electricity for ordinary residents is provided only late at night or around dawn so that people cannot use it during the evening when they really need it, the source said.

He added that people in the capital had come to see the preferential treatment for the city’s elite as “severe discrimination.”

Even in Sinuiju city—which neighbors China’s Dandong city and has traditionally enjoyed a reliable power supply due to its designation as an experimental market economy zone in North Pyongan province—ordinary residents are being limited to five hours a day of electricity, the source said.

He said an area of the city near a statue of Kim Il Sung was recently enjoying 24-hour electricity.

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New Power Plant Falls Short
Radio Free Asia
Joon Ho Kim