Archive for the ‘Arduous March’ Category

Kims’ Clear-Cutting of Korean Forests Risks Triggering Famine

Wednesday, November 21st, 2007

Bradley Martin
Hideko Takayama

In some parts of the world, floods and famine are acts of God. In North Korea, they’re acts of government.

For decades, the late North Korean dictator Kim Il Sung mobilized vast work teams to fell trees and turn the mountainsides into farmland, allowing rainwater to wreck roads, power lines and agricultural fields.

Following Kim’s death in 1994 — just before a flood- linked famine gripped the nation — his son and successor Kim Jong Il continued the sacrifice of forest cover until 2000, when he began encouraging reforestation. But the shift hasn’t reversed the damage, and some analysts warn that another famine, close to the scale of the 1990s disaster that may have killed millions of people, might occur as soon as next year.

“Next year’s food situation is quite serious,” said Kwon Tae Jin, a researcher at the Korea Rural Economic Institute in Seoul. The famine risk is greatest starting next spring, after the current harvest is used up, he said; North Korea’s best hope may be for more food aid from abroad as a result of its agreement to begin dismantling its nuclear-weapons program.

Floods in August and September left 600 people dead or missing by official count, and 270,000 homeless. “Corpses were dug out of the silt” still clutching vinyl-wrapped photos of the Kims, the official Korean Central News Agency reported.

`Bad Governance’

South Korea has similar rainfall but has largely avoided such calamities. The North’s flooding “is a product of bad governance, economic mismanagement, poor agricultural policy and haphazard short-term survival strategies of the starving, desperate population,” Alexandre Y. Mansourov, a Korea specialist at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu, said in a study.

North Korea’s deforestation program dates back to a 1961 speech by Kim Il Sung. In a mostly mountainous country, he proclaimed, “it is necessary to obtain more land through the remaking of nature.” Not only tidelands but “hills throughout the country and plateaus” should be “brought under the plough,” he said.

“The hills and mountains still had trees, and I never heard of floods,” said Hiroko Saito, a Japanese woman who moved with her Korean husband to North Korea in 1961. Her husband joined one of Kim’s vast mountain work teams in the early 1970s, said Saito, now 66 and back in Japan.

Workers and Soldiers

The crews included “city workers, students, soldiers of the Korean People’s Army and anybody else who could move,” said Lee Wo Hong, a pro-communist Korean agricultural expert living in Japan who began spending time in North Korea as a teacher and adviser in 1981.

What he saw there turned him into a critic of Kim Il Sung’s agricultural policy, he said. The country “was filled with bald mountains” on which the North Koreans had planted fast-growing maize; even relatively light rain would wash the crop away.

Reclaiming marginal land appeared successful for a while as North Korea’s overall crop yields increased, agriculture specialist Edward Reed wrote in a 2001 University of Wisconsin study. “Yet from the mid-1980s on, there appears to have been a slow decline in production, probably due to soil depletion from overintensive production,” he said.

By the early 1990s, yields dropped so low that hungry North Koreans went to the mountains to bring even more land under cultivation. Meanwhile, increased demand for firewood — the result of an energy shortage caused when former communist trading partners halted cut-rate fuel exports — added a new incentive to strip the mountainsides.

Death Toll

The results came to the world’s attention in 1995, with the worst floods in a century. The lost farmland contributed to a famine — already under way — that killed somewhere between 600,000 and 1 million North Koreans, according to “Famine in North Korea: Markets, Aid, and Reform,” by Stephen Haggard and Marcus Noland. Other estimates put the death toll as high as 4 million.

As floodwaters poured into coal mines, the energy shortage worsened and the state-run economy all but collapsed. Economic recovery — which didn’t begin until 1998 — was halted by further catastrophic floods in 2006, when the economy again shrank, according to an estimate by South Korea’s central bank.

A report on North Korea’s environment as of 2003, jointly prepared by North Korean government agencies, the United Nations Environment Program and the United Nations Development Program, blamed severe “land degradation” on “conversion of forest land in hilly areas to agricultural land.”


The report portrayed Kim Il Sung as a forest-planting enthusiast from as early as six decades ago. Nick Nuttall, a spokesperson at UNEP headquarters in Nairobi, said the agency was “not in a position to comment” on why the report didn’t mention Kim’s mountain-clearing policy.

While the report said reversing the environmental damage through reforestation has become “an all-out campaign,” hungry people have continued cultivating crops between the tree seedlings, according to Han Young Jin, a defector from the North who lives in South Korea.

As the branches spread, “people would tie the sprigs together so the trees could not grow,” Han wrote on a defector-staffed Web site, Daily NK. “When the trees inevitably died, new saplings would be planted.”


Selling to survive

Wednesday, November 21st, 2007

Financial Times
Anna Fifield

Pak Hyun-yong was, by North Korean standards, an entrepreneur. Too much of an entrepreneur. During the famine that ravaged the country in the late 1990s, Mr Pak watched his family die of starvation – first his younger brother, then his older sister’s children. Then, eventually, his sister too.

Somehow he pulled through this period, dubbed by the regime as “the arduous march”, and was spurred into taking some very non-communist, almost subversive action. He began selling noodles.

Every day he would take 10kg of “corn rice” – a poor North Korean imitation in which dried kernels are fashioned into grains – and turn it into noodles. Then he would get on his bicycle and pedal around his home town of Hamhung on the east coast, bartering the noodles for 12kg of corn rice: 10kg for tomorrow’s noodles and 2kg for his remaining family.

“The police would come by and try to persuade me not to sell the noodles, saying that I should not succumb to capitalism and that the Dear Leader would resolve our food shortages,” says Mr Pak, who escaped from North Korea a year ago and is upbeat and energetic considering the hardships he has endured.

Now 32, he is in hiding in a bleak, remote village in northern China not far from the North Korean border, together with his wife, with whom he escaped, and their new baby. They live in a one-room house with no bathroom – protected by locals who are helping them settle.

“The [North Korean] police even threatened to imprison me if I didn’t stop selling. Suddenly I realised that North Korea was a country where they would stop people’s efforts to survive,” he says, sitting on the warm floor of his house, still dressed in the apron he wears to work in a nearby butchery.

“I heard that China was a rich and modern country – that they had tractors and that people could eat rice every day, even in rural areas,” he says, shaking his head. “Chinese dogs wouldn’t eat our rice – they would ask for better.”

In almost 20 interviews along the border with China, ethnic Koreans born in China and North Korean escapees, some of whom had been in the isolated state as recently as two months ago, describe a country where change is taking place from the ground up rather than under the direction of its leader, Kim Jong-il.

North Korea remains the most tightly controlled state in the world. But recent escapees tell of the changes that are being driven by necessity in areas near China, especially in the cities of Rajin and Hoeryong in the north and Sinuiju at the southern end of the border.

While it would be an overstatement to say that this represents the type of nascent transition to free-market reforms that has occurred in countries such as Russia and China, the worsening state of the North Korean economy is leading to widespread trading and the emergence of a fledgling merchant class crossing into China, the escapees say.

Some agricultural markets – rather than just state markets – were permitted during the “economic improvements” of 2002, but ad-hoc markets have since sprung up around the country with the tacit approval, if not the encouragement, of the regime. These markets are now the backbone of North Korea’s creaking economy as the regime provides almost nothing by way of rations any more.

The parlous state of the economy is probably the driving factor behind Mr Kim’s decision to roll back his nuclear programme. The six-party denuclearisation talks are making surprisingly good progress, analysts say, as his regime seeks heavy fuel oil for its rusting industries and an end to economic sanctions.

Certainly, recent escapees from North Korea describe a desperate situation inside the country. Somewhere between 10,000 and 30,000 North Koreans are thought to be living in hiding in the north-eastern provinces of China, especially in Jilin and Heilongjiang, areas considered backward by Chinese standards.

The Financial Times travelled throughout this region to meet North Koreans while seeking to avoid endangering their lives. (North Koreans who are repatriated from China face detention in labour camps or worse, and even those who are not caught put the lives of family members at risk by talking to journalists. For that reason, names have been changed.)

“In Rajin, all the factories have stopped,” says Oh Man-bok, a 22-year-old who escaped in September from the city near the borders with Russia and China, considered relatively prosperous because it is one of the North’s main trading channels. “The men still have to go to work and have their name checked off but there is nothing to do. Sometimes they sit around and sometimes they go home. They don’t get paid but sometimes, in a good month, they get 15 days’ worth of corn in rations,” he says.

That means women are increasingly becoming the breadwinners, going to the mountains to collect edible plants or to the market to sell home-made snacks. “People survive by selling. They do whatever they can to earn money – selling fried dough sticks or repairing shoes and clothes,” Mr Oh says. “But it’s very difficult to earn enough to survive and even in Rajin, many people have to eat porridge made from the whey left over from making tofu.”

Rajin and Sinuiju, as the main thoroughfares for trade with China, have been more open than the rest of North Korea for some time, but the experiment with capitalism that has been taking place in these two cities now appears to be expanding to Hoeryong.

The city of Hoeryong can be clearly seen from the Chinese side of the border, which is marked by a shallow river only 20 metres wide in places. On the bridge between the two countries, the Financial Times watched North Korean trucks trundle into China and dozens of Chinese – and a few North Koreans wearing badges stamped with the image of Kim Il-sung, Mr Kim’s late father and founder of the state – lug bags across.

A Chinese border official says that about 100 a day cross the bridge from the Chinese side, mainly going to visit family members, although in summer as many as 300 go on tour packages to the beach on North Korea’s east coast. About 10 North Koreans a day cross into China for trading or to see their relatives. “With Rmb1,000 [$135, £65, €92] they can come to China even if they don’t have family here. So they often borrow money to come here and buy things for trading in the market in Hoeryong,” the official says.

Bribery appears to be becoming more widespread as trade and travel increases – from a few cigarettes needed to pass through internal checkpoints to the few hundred renminbi expected at border crossings. “Everyone wants to be a border guard these days,” says one Chinese-Korean trader. “They don’t explicitly say, ‘Give me money’ – they just keep going through your paperwork and asking you questions until you offer them money.”

Again, Pyongyang seems to be aware that this is happening and allows it as a way to keep people happy – rotating border guards every six months to give officials from around the country a chance to earn extra money, according to escapees.

In Hoeryong, the market used to be beside the bridge on the outskirts but this year it was moved to a school building right in the centre of town. Its 180,000 residents enjoy a relatively privileged existence because Kim Jong-il’s late mother was born there.

The market has become central to the city and to people’s lives, driven by grassroots demand, says Song Mi-ok, an ethnic Korean living in China who has made several trips to the city recently. She has gained access by visiting fake relatives, a family to whom she pays Rmb1,000 every time she pretends to visit them.

“You can find everything there,” she says of the market, which opens at 7.30am and closes at dusk. “People usually start by selling food that they have grown or made, using the profits to move into goods trading.”

North Koreans say one can buy everything in the markets “except cat horns”, as their expression has it. Rice given as aid from South Korea is on sale and people even display the bag – even though they risk having it confiscated by the authorities – because people know that South Korean rice is of high quality, Ms Song says.

One kilogram of rice in Hoer­yong market costs 900 North Korean won – a huge amount in a country where the average wage for a government employee is about between 3,000 and 4,000 won a month, or slightly more than one US dollar.

“There are a lot of people buying and it’s all money trade; there’s no bartering now,” Ms Song says. “North Koreans are poor, so it’s quite surprising to see people with a lot of money. They don’t receive money from the state – it’s all money they have made themselves.”

One Korean-Chinese man who visited relatives in Hoeryong last year also describes an increasingly active drug trade. It is not uncommon, he says, to be approached by people in their twenties or thirties selling a white narcotic called “ice” – probably a form of crystal methamphetamine. The drug fetches 20 times the North Korean price in China, making smuggling a lucrative business, but the punishment for drug trafficking in China is so severe that Hoeryong dealers try to sell it to visiting Chinese.

The markets are thriving thanks to new border regulations. While the number crossing illegally has dropped because of tighter restrictions in both countries, the number of North Koreans who are allowed to cross into China legally has steadily increased, according to several Korean-Chinese who help those who make it across the border.

North Koreans with relatives in China but not in South Korea are allowed to apply for passports to cross the border. This is creating a new group of migrant workers – those who are legal but working for themselves and their families rather than for the state. “Young people come here to work for one or two months and earn some money – they’re coming from Pyongyang as well as the regions,” says Ri In-chol, an ethnic Korean missionary from China who supports border crossers, legal or otherwise.

“They pay Rmb300-Rmb400 to get a passport and then they can cross. There is now a much freer flow because Kim Jong-il realises that this is the only way to keep the people alive. They take back money, used sewing machines and used clothes from their relatives that they can sell in the markets,” Mr Ri says.

Although Chinese clothes are most prevalent, North Koreans prefer South Korean products for their higher quality. “The labels have to be cut out of South Korean clothes, so if they don’t have a label then people assume that they’re South Korean and they like them more,” says another Chinese-Korean who has recently visited Rajin.

Indeed, Mr Ri says that North Korean officials are picky about what they will let through. “When North Koreans come to China they are allowed to take used clothes back. But when Korean-Chinese people want to give clothes to their relatives in North Korea, they have to be new because otherwise the officials think they are being looked down on,” he says. (Jeans and short skirts, seen as representative of American immorality, are still not allowed.)

The economic changes – particularly the lessening dependence on the state – are potentially destabilising for Mr Kim’s regime because they weaken the tools of control. That means that there is a fine line between what is permissible and what is not. “Kim Jong-il is tolerating this much openness because people need to survive, but if he wakes up one morning and sees capitalism is spreading too far, he will order it all to be stopped,” says Gao Jing­zhu, professor of Korean studies at China’s Yanbian University, near the border.

“North Korea is small, so if there is too much change it will threaten the sustainability of the regime and it will collapse,” Prof Gao says. “North Korea is in a dilemma.”

Good Friends, a Seoul-based civic group that monitors life inside North Korea, this month said Pyongyang was cracking down on women working in street markets. “The authorities have judged that female merchants have reached a point that threatens the country’s government,” Good Friends quoted a North Korean official in China as saying.

“The men are tied to their workplaces but they don’t receive proper rations,” the official reportedly said. “This has shifted the men’s burden of supporting their families on to the women. With trade directly linked to the people’s survival, the crackdown isn’t going well.”

Indeed, it may already be too late. The increased economic interaction with China means that the flow of information to North Koreans is steadily increasing. “People’s awareness and illusions have changed,” says one Chinese-Korean who drives trucks into North Korea.

This is just the kind of contact that threatens Mr Kim’s regime, which has kept the 23m-strong population under control by cutting off access to the outside world and telling them they live in a socialist paradise. Mr Ri, the missionary, says: “People living in open areas like Rajin and Hoeryong are more exposed to the outside world but that is not the case when you go further into North Korea. So even if it is becoming more open, you never know when that is going to change. They will still come after you if you are involved in political activities.”

But recent escapees from North Korea say that people are increasingly discussing – in private – one topic that they say would have been unimaginable until very recently: the eventual death of the Dear Leader. “State control is still as strong as before but now, when people gather together as families, they say that the system is really wrong. That never used to happen before,” says Mr Pak, the man who left Hamhung last year.

“Kim Jong-il always says he will feed the people and make them happy, but that has not happened. There are many people who hope that Kim Jong-il will die soon,” he says, shrugging his shoulders. “I have to admit it: the state is already kind of breaking down.”


The Story of a Honorary Soldier Selling Noodles in Pyongyang

Friday, October 26th, 2007

Daily NK
Lee Kwang Baek

Mr. “Kim,” who lives in Pyongyang, lost a foot in an accident in the army. After his discharge, he became a 1st-class Honorary Soldier of merit living on provisions and bonuses supplied by the nation. The wounded soldiers are named as “Honorary Soldiers” in North Korea. Even before the great famine, Mr. Kim and his family could survive on provisions and bonuses alone. However, after the worsening of the economic situation, they fell into serious hardship.

Nowadays, Mr. Kim steps outside every morning, dragging his one foot, because he has to buy noodles at the “Sunkyokak (a noodles restaurant)” that sells honorary soldiers at a state-assigned price of 230 won. Mr. Kim, who is a first-class honorary soldier, can buy two bowls of noodles at one time.

There is no limit on the number of times one can buy a bowl of noodles. However, with the increase in honorary soldiers living on the profit from noodles bought and resold, the number of bowls Mr. Kim can buy from standing in line all day is only four. Even then, he can sell a bowl which he bought for 230 won for 1,000 and can go home with a slightly upward amount of 3,000 won after selling four bowls.

The subsidies Mr. Kim receives as an honorary soldier every month is 3,000 won. That only comes out to 100 won per day, not even sufficient for a bowl of noodles from Sunkyokak. The cost of living for a family of four is usually 100,000 won (approx. USD30.0), so it is not enough to get by for a month. If one can earn one month’s worth of bonus in a day by selling noodles, there is nothing he can do, besides sell them, but to stand in line all day on crutches.

Until now, North Korea has poured a lot of energy to support for honorary soldiers. After the Korean War, it has guaranteed jobs for soldiers by erecting the Distinguished Soldier Fountain Pen Factory, the Sariwon Honorary Soldier Dressmaker Factory, the Hamheung Honorary Soldier Plastic Products Factory, etc. and to soldiers who have lost their ability to work, it has given provisions and bonuses. Further, it has advertised support for honorary soldiers as the “citizen’s responsibility” and has sought out civilian support.

However, recently, according to North Korean sources, among the guests who come to the Sunkyokak, approximately half are honorary soldiers who resell the noodles. The honorary soldiers demonstrate the fact that survival based on provisions and bonuses alone are impossible.

After the food shortage, an important transformation has taken place in North Korea. The number of people relying on national provisions decreased by around 30% and the rest were placed in situations where they could not survive on provisions, salaries, and bonuses provided by the state alone. At least 100,000 won is needed for monthly living costs, but the salary and bonus that the state can provide is only several thousand won. North Korea has become a society where honorary soldiers who had received the state’s special consideration and support now have to sell whatever they can to survive.

In order to buy four bowls of noodles, Mr. Kim, who has to stand on crutches all day, is the testament of North Korea’s economic system which has crumbled since the food shortage and the rapid deteriorate of whatever grip it does have.


Jangmadang Will Prevent “Second Food Crisis” from Developing

Friday, October 26th, 2007

Daily NK
Kim Min Se

There is a prospect of the rise of “second food crisis” next year because of the flood disaster and the resulting food shortage.

A senior researcher at Korea Rural Economic Institute, Kwon Tae Jin said warningly, “Unless North Korea comes up with a special plan to secure food supply, there will come another food crisis next year, which is as severe as the one in the mid and late 1990s.”

Kwon anticipated that North Korea would need 5.2 million tons of grain for domestic consumption. Unfortunately, it is expected that North Korea would produce around 3.8 million tons of grain. This means there will be a shortage of 1.4 million tons of grain.

The statistics indicates there is a real possibility of a food crisis. North Korean authorities announced that the flood inundated about 2.2 billion ㎡ of farmland, which accounts for 14 percent of the country’s farmland. It is estimated that 2.2 billion ㎡ of farmland produces at least 500,000 tons of grain.

However, another prospect says that although food shortage is inevitable, it will not lead to mass starvation in North Korea as it did in the mid-1990s. Most of defectors from North Korea said, “Since the mid-2000s, things have changed. There won’t be any serious starvation.” They said that the current situation is different from that of those days under the central food distribution system. They added that the Jangmadang (markets) economy has changed a way for life among North Korea people.

◆ The amount of demand for food is overestimated

It should be double-checked whether North Korea really needs a minimum of 5.2 million tons of grain. There is criticism that the estimate of food demand which was calculated by some South Korean experts on North Korea and relief organizations is unrealistic. It is also pointed out that the estimate is calculated based on the nutrition standard of South Korea.

Defectors said that mass starvation would not have occurred if North Korea had at least a half of 5.2 million tons of grain in the mid 1990s.

Although the international standard for daily nutritional intake is between 2,000 and 2,500 kcal/day, North Korea sets the standard at 1,600 kcal/day, which amounts to 450 grams of grain.

It is easy to estimate the minimum amount of food demand needed in North Korea. Let us say every individual including children and the elderly needs 550 grams of grain per day, which is equal to the daily amount of food distributed to every adult by the state. With the population of 22 million in North Korea, the country then needs 12,100 tons of grain each day and 4.4 million tons of grain per year.

It is known that the North Korean government provides 550 grams of grain for adults and 300 grams for both children and the elderly. According to CIA’s World Fact Book 2004, the population aged between 15 and 64 in North Korea is around 15 million, which accounts for 67.8 percent of total population. This means the population of children and the elderly together reaches about 7 million. If we do the math, we come into conclusion that the amount of food needed in North Korea every year is 3,777,750 tons of grain.

Recall that North Korean people had received the aforementioned amount of food through the state food distribution until early 1990s. Of course, the country did not suffer from mass starvation back then.

The mass starvation during the mid-1990s resulted from huge decrease in food production between 1994 and 1998. In those years, North Korea produced about 2 million tons of grain, which fell far below the needed levels of food production. Hwang Jang Yop, former secretary of the Worker’s Party also testified that in the fall of 2006, while he was still in North Korea, he once heard the secretary of agriculture Seo Kwan Hee worrying about extremely low food production.

Therefore, it is correct to estimate the minimum amount of food needed in North Korea at 3,777,750 tons of grain. If the food production decreases below 3 million tons, then the food prices will skyrocket, and the possibility of mass starvation will be increased.

◆ A New way of life among North Korean people helps prevent them from falling victim to starvation.

North Koran people do not believe in the state authorities any more. The people know that they suffered from horrible starvation because they relied on the state and its food distribution system. During the crisis, many people had desperately waited for food to be distributed until they collapsed and died. Nowadays, North Korean people find a means of living by themselves at Jangmadang.

“There is no free ride” is the words on everybody’s lips in North Korea, which means that everyone must work hard in order to make a living. The lowest class became a day laborer.

The mass starvation of the mid-1990s has brought a significant change into North Korean society. Except a few, most of North Korean people do not rely on the state’s food distribution system. Instead, they have come up with a variety of survival techniques such as engaging in business, illegal trade with China or real estate transactions, receiving support from defected family members, and house sitting.

In that manner, North Korean people make money and use it to buy rice. An affiliate at the Bank of Korea who studies price trends of North Korea said, “Since the adoption of the July 1 Economic Improvement Measure, the price of rice and corn has increased the least.” If the prices go up, people would tighten their belts and decrease their spending on every item except rice. This means they are not that vulnerable to starvation as they used to.

◆ Businessmen are good at securing food.

Recently, a number of rich businessmen have emerged. Some have tens of thousands dollars, and others as many as several million dollars. Groups of Jangmadang businessmen have been organized with these rich businessmen as the leaders.

These businessmen come and go to China as they please and supply food and goods to Jangmadang in North Korea. If the rice price in North Korea is expensive than in China, they buy Chinese rice and sell it at Janmadang. In this way, they help balance supply and demand at the market.

Furthermore, Chinese residents in North Korea and Chinese businessmen also joined the North Korean businessmen as providers at the market. They too sell food produced in China at Jangmadang when food prices go up in North Korea. If possible, they even sell rice reserved for the People’s Army. There was an accusation that the state authorities supplied food aid from overseas for the People’s Army while collecting food produced in North Korea at the same time.

Of course, some businessmen could deliberately keep a hold on food supply anticipating an increase in food prices. However, that kind of unfair activity is temporary. Although it is too early to tell, the “invisible hand” of the market, however small it is, is operating in North Korea and acting as a preventive measure against starvation.


Expert says North facing more famines

Friday, October 19th, 2007

Joong Ang Daily (via AFP)

If floods and bad weather aggravate already chronic food shortages, North Korea may face new famines next year, a leading expert in Seoul warned yesterday.

Floods and storms, followed by outbreaks of blight and insect-related damage, deprived the impoverished nation of about 10 percent of its fall harvest this year, said Kwon Tae-Jin, research director of the Korea Rural Economic Institute.

“North Korea is likely to face very serious food shortages next year, and barring very generous help from abroad, we may see something like the 1995-98 famine,” Kwon told AFP.

That famine reportedly killed hundreds of thousands of people.

Kwon said North Korea needs at least 5.3 million tons of food to feed its 23 million people from now until next year’s harvest. But its own food production is expected to come to only 3.9 million ton, leaving a shortfall of 1.4 million.

South Korea is the North’s biggest aid provider, supplying it with 400,000 tons of food every year. Seoul is expected to increase this aid to 500,000 tons next year.

North Korea imports about 200,000 to 300,000 tons of food every year, but must rely on outside help to plug the remaining gap, Kwon said.

Paul Risley, Asia spokesman for the World Food Programme in Bangkok, said some food aid was sent directly to the North, including from China. Nonetheless, there is a significant gap between the amount of food available and the amount actually required, Risley told AFP, citing UN figures.

“This is a very serious concern, and it’s quite clear from the most recent estimate of food commodities that are available … that the DPRK [North Korea] will once again this year face a very significant gap between the amount of cereal, such as corn and rice, available and the amount of food required for its population,” he said.

He said the World Food Programme provides a “relatively small amount of food assistance” to millions of the most vulnerable, including several hundred thousand victims of August floods.

North Korea was already reliant on international aid to help make up a food shortfall of 1 million tons ― 20 percent of its needs ― even before the August rains.


North Korea on Google Earth

Saturday, October 6th, 2007

Version 5: Download it here (on Google Earth) 

This map covers North Korea’s agriculture, aviation, cultural locations, manufacturing facilities, railroad, energy infrastructure, politics, sports venues, military establishments, religious facilities, leisure destinations, and national parks. It is continually expanding and undergoing revisions. This is the fifth version.

Additions to the latest version of “North Korea Uncovered” include updates to new Google Earth overlays of Sinchon, UNESCO sites, Railroads, canals, and the DMZ, in addition to Kim Jong Suk college of eduation (Hyesan), a huge expansion of the electricity grid (with a little help from Martyn Williams) plus a few more parks, antiaircraft sites, dams, mines, canals, etc.

Disclaimer: I cannot vouch for the authenticity of many locations since I have not seen or been to them, but great efforts have been made to check for authenticity. These efforts include pouring over books, maps, conducting interviews, and keeping up with other peoples’ discoveries. In many cases, I have posted sources, though not for all. This is a thorough compilation of lots of material, but I will leave it up to the reader to make up their own minds as to what they see. I cannot catch everything and I welcome contributions.

I hope this map will increase interest in North Korea. There is still plenty more to learn, and I look forward to receiving your additions to this project.


Expert says N.K. becoming more open, better at dealing with national disasters

Monday, September 24th, 2007


North Korea is becoming more transparent and effective in dealing with disasters, spurred by both internal and external factors, an Asia-Pacific regional specialist said in his latest paper.

Dr. Alexandre Mansourov, a securities studies professor at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies (APCSS) in Hawaii, noted five trends in the North Korean government’s responses over the past decade to nationwide shocks, including floods, typhoons, drought and avian influenza outbreaks.

Increasing transparency is one of the trends, with Pyongyang more quickly admitting to disasters that have struck the nation, he said in a paper (download here) released last week through the Korea Economic Institute in Washington.

It took North Korea several years to admit the impact of natural disasters in the mid-1990s that led to massive starvation and chronic food shortages. But in August 2000, when it was hit by Typhoon Prapiroon, North Korea released the news three weeks after it occurred, and in the two following years, when other typhoons struck, North Korea reported it within three to six days, Mansourov said.

Pyongyang immediately acknowledged flooding in August 2007, he said.

“Observers agree that the timeliness, details, and amount of coverage of flood damage and rehabilitation work in August 2007 is unprecedented.”

North Korea is also showing institutional knowledge and a capacity for disaster management, with new organizations growing out of a decade of learning and experience, such as various provincial centers, the professor said.

The North Korean Red Cross Society has been exceptional, he said, working with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and has made itself the leading agency in disaster preparedness and response.

Inter-agency coordination has also increased, with deputy prime minister-level working groups working closely together in each disaster since the flood of 2001, as there are preventive programs through which basic relief supplies are stored in town and villages.

For example, the 10-year strategy against avian influenza, worked out by the emergency commission in 2005, would have been unthinkable a decade ago, Mansourov wrote.

Another notable trend is the increasing cooperation between the North Korean government and international humanitarian community, gradually allowing joint needs assessments and monitoring, he noted.

Mansourov argued that external factors helped bring about the changes.

“International factors did make a difference in what happened in (North Korea), especially through the introduction of innovative ideas and dissemination of best humanitarian practices,” in addition to foreign aid, he said.

The scholar also argued that while the country’s top leader, Kim Jong-il, does control any institutional changes, there is also adaptation driven by needs.

“There has been some degree of autonomous institutional learning and adaptation; it is incremental in nature and caused by both positive and negative feedback from the environment regarding institutional performance in crisis situations,” he said.


What Are N. Koreans Up to?

Friday, September 21st, 2007

Korea Times
Marcus Noland, Stephan Haggard

Last summer North Korea conducted provocative missile and nuclear tests. Yet only four months later, Pyongyang signed on to a roadmap that included a return of international inspectors, a full declaration of contested nuclear activities, closing down existing facilities and ultimately disabling them.

American negotiator Christopher Hill predicted this last step could take place as early as the end of the year.

What are the North Koreans up to?

The cynical, some would say realistic, view in the United States _ advanced by departed Bush administration hawks such as John Bolton _ is that Kim Jong-il is raising false hopes.

The appearance of cooperation has several tactical advantages. Sanctions and ongoing uncertainty have had substantial economic costs. The February agreement was preceded by secret meetings in Berlin to resolve the Banco Delta Asia issue.

In return, the North Koreans closed their nuclear facilities, but they have not firmly committed to the difficult aspects of the agreement _ providing a full accounting of their programs, disabling their programs, and giving up actual stores of fissile material and weapons.

Cooperation also drives wedges between the U.S., South Korea and China. If North Korea appears to be making concessions, it is easier for South Korea and China to continue diplomatic and financial support.

Next month, President Roh Moo-hyun will travel to Pyongyang for a summit with Kim Jong-il. Expect him to come bearing gifts to cement his legacy as a peacemaker.

Other politicians in the presidential race have also offered extraordinarily ambitious and generous programs of support for the North as well.

Recent studies we have done on North Korea’s changing external economic relations are consistent with some of this cynical picture, but also suggest a sliver of hope for more substantial change.

To understand why, requires a brief tour of the miserable history of North Korea over the last two decades. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the North Korean economy went into a steep decline ending in full-blown famine.

By our estimates, as many as one million people _ five percent of the entire population _ perished in the mid-1990s. Out of the human ashes of this tragedy, however, the North Korean economy began to undergo a profound transformation.

As households and work units scrambled for food, they engaged in barter, trade and new economic activities.

The desperation of the famine also saw an upturn in illicit activities, from missile sales to drugs and the counterfeiting of U.S. currency. But trade and investment also started to flow across the Chinese border.

Chinese companies, small-scale traders and North Korean firms pursued business opportunities, from large-scale mining operations to the import of South Korean videos.

The regime was always hesitant about the emergence of the market. In July 2002, the government initiated economic policy changes that decriminalized some private activities. But reforms have taken a zig-zag path, always subject to reversal.

Sanctions and closer scrutiny have limited the country’s arms sales and illicit activities.
With these sources of revenue increasingly foreclosed, North Korea has two alternatives _ open the economy and increase normal commercial activities or cooperate primarily to obtain aid. In terms of internal change, these two options may actually push North Korea in opposite directions.

Consider the aid tack. Given the regime’s concerns about internal stability, aid could provide a lifeline, allowing the regime to sustain a modicum of current consumption while forgoing deeper reforms. Under this option, North Korea trades away its nuclear program for assistance precisely to maintain the political and economic status quo.

Alternatively, North Korea could use the resolution of diplomatic tensions to deepen the economic reform process.

The military has been engaged in commercial activities and could potentially benefit from such a course. But real reform will reshuffle power and influence within North Korea in ways that are unpredictable and risky.

So what can we expect from Pyongyang? The nuclear program is the regime’s one major asset and we should not expect them to bargain it away easily.

Rather we should expect prolonged and difficult negotiations as they try to extract tribute for their “Dear Leader.”

In the end, we may eliminate North Korea’s capacity for making additional nuclear weapons, but this will not necessarily be accompanied by economic or political reforms.

An important lesson learned elsewhere in the developing world is that aid is not a substitute for reform.

Ambitious schemes for infrastructure and other investment in North Korea will only generate large economic pay-offs if they are accompanied by genuine opening and a more aggressive embrace of the market.

The key issue, therefore, is how tightly South Korea will link its offer of aid to progress in the resolution of the nuclear issue. Properly conditioned, South Korean aid could be a powerful carrot in the nuclear negotiations, whether it ultimately encourages internal reforms or not.

But if the South Korean offers at the summit are large, unconditional and open-ended, they could permit the regime in Pyongyang to stall the nuclear negotiations while actually discouraging deeper reform.


Class Divergence on the Rise as Market Economics Spred in DPRK

Friday, September 21st, 2007

Institute for Far East Studies (IFES)
NK Brief No. 07-9-21-1

The recent growth in the private-sector economy in DPRK markets and other areas of society has brought with it some significant social changes worth noting. According to most defectors from the North, following the massive famine suffered in the mid 1990s, the biggest change to emerge in the DPRK was the reshuffling of the social class structure. In North Korean society, there are reportedly five identifiable social classes.

The first of these classes is the ruling class, made up of those elite surrounding Kim Jong Il. This class survives off of Kim Jong Il’s government funds, aid sent from South Korea, and from exploitation of the general public.

The second class is made up of business traders with access to foreign capital. A portion of money earned through foreign currency exchange businesses is turned over to the Kim Jong Il regime, while the rest can amassed in order to lead a relatively comfortable life.

The third class is made up of organized thugs who make their money through public trading and markets. These people control regional markets and local trading by using money and violence to employ extortion tactics much like the Russian mafia

The fourth class scrapes by on government rations. This mercantile class comprises an estimated 20~30 percent of the North’s overall population.

The fifth distinct class in North Korea is made up of commoners who support their way of life through farming private plots and selling goods in markets. An overwhelming majority of the population falls into this class; more than 60 percent of the people in North Korea live hand-to-mouth each day on the fruits of their own labor.

The remainder of the population falls beneath even these classes, because they either lack labor skills or are feeble elderly, handicapped, hospitalized, homeless, or wandering from city to city.


Great Review of ‘Famine in North Korea’

Sunday, August 26th, 2007

noland-haggard.jpgFor several months I have been meaning to post a review of Stephen Haggard and Marcus Noland’s book, Famine in North Korea, but for thousands of reasons it was always pushed back.

Stephen Haggard and Marcus Noland wrote the definitive book on the DPRK’s Arduous March, and it is required reading for any serious North Korea watcher.

Now…Joshua at One Free Korea has written the definitive review of the book, so I will just put links to his posts: Part One, Part Two, Part Three.