Water Trade Burgeoning in North Korea

Daily NK
Moon Sung Hwee

Amidst the trend of increasing numbers of civilians trying to make ends meet through trade in the wake of the July 1st Economic Management Reform Measure, medical students in North Korea have started doing business by drawing water from the Yalu River.

However, due to the territorial nature of the Yalu River, water-selling, and attendant incidents of violence in order to grasp commercial rights, have become more frequent.

A source from Yangkang Province said in a phone conversation with the Daily NK on the 9th, “Three Hyesan Medical School students who were selling water near the People’s Committee of Yangkang Province building attacked a couple in their 30s, who had to be taken to hospital on the 7th.”

The source said, “Generally, the Yeinbong-dong (in Hyesan) is where students of Kim Jong Sook College of Education and Bongheung Middle School sell water, and the area around Hyemyung-dong is designated for Hyemyung Middle School and Hyesan Medical School students. The Hyesan Medical School students mistook the villagers drawing water for people trying to enter their zone, so the incident erupted.”

According to the source, the medical school students used their handcart to crash into the couple’s sleigh. The husband, angry at this, hit one of the students, which provoked the two remaining students to collectively assault the couple and flee.

The source relayed, “Subsequently, the relatives of the couple and their friends sought out the Hyesan Medical Student dormitory with axes and spades, so the People’s Security Agency (PSA) was called. The PSA searched all over the dormitory, but ultimately could not find the suspects.”

In Hyesan, Yangkang Province, as water provision to civilians became more erratic due to failing subsistence, the business of drawing supplies from the Yalu River to take to far-flung regions started springing up. Not only does the business not require much capital, but water can be fetched from the Yalu River with a handcart or a sleigh and be sold in residential areas, so it is popular among college students who come from farming regions to Hyesan, or among middle school students.

“Selling water is mostly monopolized by middle school and college students. This is a job that ordinary people will take up as a last resort,” the source said.

He added, “Those college students who come from the country side and live in dormitories take up this business. A portion of middle school students, in order to contribute to the livelihoods of their families or to make personal allowances, choose to do it as well.”

“In Hyesan right now, 50 liters of water costs around 300 North Korean won, and a 70-liter Chinese bucket sells for 400 won,” he explained.

He then said, “Water is fetched from the Yalu River with a handcart or a sleigh: one sleigh can carry about four to five 50-liter water buckets. This business cannot be done solo, so people usually undertake this in groups of three or four.”

The source stated, “Water merchants go back and forth between the Yalu River and where they are based at least four times a day. Sometimes, they can even go seven to eight times a day, but there are not too many people who buy water.”

“Those who buy water are mostly cadres or merchants who have to go to the markets. Also, people who sell liquor or tofu require a lot of water. With so many water merchants, incidents of fighting over territory are quite common.”

Hyesan, which began receiving aid from international organizations in 2003, was the pride of the North Korean authorities, especially since the completion of a “natural water supply system” which took two years to construct. However, as a result of simultaneously burying the water and the sewage system at the time of construction, the polluting of the city’s water resulted. The residents of densely populated areas, which are located mostly on hillier regions relatively far from the Yalu River, have not been receiving tap water, noted the source.


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