Archive for the ‘Arduous March’ Category

Price of Rice and Inflation

Sunday, August 19th, 2007

Korea Times
Andrei Lankov

Sometimes even Stalinist propaganda tells the truth. When the North Korean newspapers occasionally told grossly exaggerated horror stories about South Korean inflation, they stressed that nothing like that could possibly happen in North Korea. This was the case indeed. For nearly half a century, from the late 1950s to the late 1980s retail prices in North Korea remained essentially unchanged. One kilogram of rice cost 0.08 won in 1960. It was still the same price in 1990.

This was possible because almost nothing was actually “sold’’ in North Korea. Communist states often rationed goods distributed through retail trade, but in most cases it was only a handful of most prestigious goods that were subjected to rationing _ like, say, cars. North Korea went much further: by the early 1970s, retail trade in the North ceased to exist, being completely replaced by an elaborate public distribution system. Rations depended on a type of work performed, but also on one’s position within a complicated hierarchy of social groups, as well as one’s place of residence (inhabitants of major cities, and Pyongyang in particular, enjoyed much better rations than those in the countryside).

There were some markets, of course, barely tolerated by the government. But until the late 1980s markets were small, with their trade volume being almost negligible. It seems that most people were reasonably satisfied with what they could get from the state distribution system _ of course, it helped that they knew next to nothing about the situation in other countries, so they could not compare.

The situation began to change around 1990 when the old distribution system collapsed under the pressure of an economic crisis. From 1993-94 there were increasing problems with rations, and from around 1996 rations pretty much stopped altogether. Some food was still distributed in major urban centers, but even there the distributed amount was so meager that nobody could survive on rations alone. A large-scale famine ensued, with at least half to one million dead (the oft-cited figure of three million victims seems to be an exaggeration).

People turned to trade and handicrafts, and with this arrival of a market economy inflation became a North Korean phenomenon as well. Even in the 1980s market prices exceeded the official prices in the state shops. By the mid-1990s, the difference was much greater. In theory, rice still cost 0.08 a kilo, but by 2000 its price on the market reached 45-50 won. Official wages remained unchanged, however, so around 2001 the average salary was approximately 20 times less than the income necessary for physical survival. People had no choice but to augment their income.

The government understood that there was no way to restore the old system: a decade of economic crisis had undermined the basic machinery of distribution and obviously the system was beyond repair. Thus, in 2002 the much trumpeted “July 1 Reforms” were introduced.

It’s difficult to describe these measures as “reforms”–the government simply gave official recognition to the situation which had existed for quite a few years.

The distribution system (long defunct) was curtailed. There was a dramatic increase in the retail prices of basic goods and services _ obviously in an attempt to approximate the prices of the market. Thus, that one-kilo of rice which cost 0.08 won since July cost 44 won.

Wages increased as well. Obviously, the wage increase was not even, and some groups have gained _ or lost _ more than others. It was estimated that the average increase in wages has been approximately 2500 percent (that is, 25 times). At the same time, prices have increased 3000-4000 percent (that is, 30-40 times). This necessitated the issue of 1000 won bills _ the largest denomination in North Korean financial history since the 1959 currency reform. Later, 5000 won bills were issued as well.

But the measures had another effect. The increase in salaries meant that the market was instantly flooded with cash. Needless to say, the only outcome could be inflation. Some people speculated that this was the intention of the Pyongyang leaders who hoped to kick-start the economy in such a way. Perhaps. But I would not be surprised if in 15 or 20 years down the track we learn from interviews and talks with the planners of this reform that they did not really expect inflation. Pyongyang economic managers have not had much exposure to market theory, and are sometimes very naive in their understanding of these questions.

Indeed, by October 2002 the market price of rice had increased to 120 won per kilo. In 2003, the price doubled to 250-300 won, and now it is about 1000 won. Inflation has become a part of North Korean life.

What will happen next? Will the North Korean leaders manage to stabilize the situation, or will a new wave of economic crisis wipe out the entire North Korean system? We do not know yet. But it is clear that there is no return to old days when a kilo of rice could be had for 0.08 won _ that is, if you were lucky enough to live in an area where they distributed grain rations in rice, not in maize.


No Changes to the Cost of Rice And Corn at Jangmadang

Friday, July 20th, 2007

Daily NK
Kim Min Se

A newsletter published on the 18th by “Good Friends” a North Korean aid organization claimed that “On average 10 people die of starvation throughout North Korea.”

However well informed North Korea defectors and North Korean tradesmen who travel to China refute the organization’s claim and argue, “It would be difficult for that to happen.”

The organization published in its newsletter, “Since the end of June, starvation has been occurring in each province throughout North Korea” and informed, “The number of people dying in North Pyongan, Yangkang, Jagang, South and North Hamkyung continues to rise everyday.” 

In particular, Good Friends stated, “In South and North Hamkyung, about 10 people are dying of starvation in each city and province” and “On the whole, the people dying are aged 40~65 years.”

“Though the cause behind the deaths is different for each person, most of the complications are related to malnutrition” informed Good Friends. They added, “A mass famine has not yet begun, however authorities and people feel the threat of the situation” stressing the urgency of North Korea’s food crisis. 

An affiliate of Good Friends said, “Presently, only 20,000 tons of South Korea’s food aid is offered (to North Korea)” and commented, “This rate of aid is too slow in saving the lives of the dying people.” 

However, there are criticisms against this claim. Some argue that Good Friends had excessively inflated North Korea’s food crisis. 

Choi Young Il (pseudonym) questioned this claim by Good Friends after a telephone conversation with his family in North Korea on the 16th. He said, “Even up to two days ago, I spoke to my family on the phone but they didn’t mention anything about a food crisis.” 

Moreover, Choi said, “Alleging that about 10 people on average are dying in the cities and province of South and North Hamkyung is no different to saying that nearly 400 people are dying throughout the whole region of South and North Hamkyung every day” and added, “In that case, this is similar to the early period of mass starvation in the early 90s.” 

“Only looking at North Hamkyung, most of the people living in the border regions live off illegal trade through China and though they may not be living well, I was aware that they got by without having to eat porridge” Choi said and remarked, “I don’t believe the claim that 10 people are dying of starvation every day.” 

On the same day, Hwang Myung Kil (pseudonym) a North Korean citizen who came to Yanji to visit his relatives in China said in a telephone conversation with a reporter, “I cannot believe the rumor that people are starving to death around the border areas of the Tumen River” and commented, “I haven’t even heard stories of more people starving to death in the mines and they live in masses around Musan.”

Hwang said, “Even amongst the people in Musan, there are only a small number of people who live off corn for three meals a day… Nowadays, people look for quality rather than quantity.” Further, he said “Though life is tough, people have found their own way of survival. It’s not to the point of starvation.”

If according to Good Friends, 10 people are dying on average due to starvation, this situation would indicate signs similar to the mass starvation in the early 90s. However, the cost of rice claimed by Good Friends clashes with their claim. 

When North Korea faced their mass crisis in the mid-90s, the cost of corn rose dramatically. In October 1995, 1kg of corn cost 16won, but this doubled to 30won. However, there has not been much change to the cost of food in North Korea.

According to a recent survey by the DailyNK on the cost of goods in North Korea’s Jangmadang (markets), 1kg of corn rice at Hoiryeong markets sells for 450won and 1kg of rice produced in North Korea costs 900won. 

More importantly is the cost of cigarettes. A packet of Sunbong, a North Korean brand of cigarettes sells for 1,000won and “Cat” cigarettes for 1,300won. The cost of a kilo of rice is still cheaper than a packet of cigarettes. 

If North Korea’s starvation was on the brink of a massive food shortage, then it is expected that the cost of rice and corn would escalate dramatically as an onset to the crisis. 

On the other hand, Kim Il Joo (pseudonym) a Chinese tradesman and expert on North Korean markets said, “I can’t say that North Korea’s food situation is smooth, but I don’t think it will get any worse than this.” Kim said “Now you can eat new potatoes and soon new corn will be available on the markets” and added, “Then, I think we will be able to get through another year.”  

Deaths from hunger rise across N. Korea: civic group


A growing number of people have died of starvation across North Korea since late last month, a South Korean civic group working to defend rights of North Koreans said Wednesday.

“Famine-driven deaths began to occur across North Korea in late June,” Good Friends said in a commentary carried in its weekly newsletter. “In some cities and counties in the provinces of North Pyongan, Ranggang, Jagang and South and North Hamkyong, the number of deaths is on the increase daily.”

In North Hamkyong Province, a daily average of ten people, mostly those aged between 40 and 65, died of starvation, the group added.

“The leading cause of death varied for each case, but most people are dying of famine-driven malnutrition and its complications,” the commentary said.

The price of rice rose steadily this month, with North Korea facing a crisis of massive deaths from hunger, it said.

The group then called on the Seoul government and the international community to send more emergency food aid to help North Koreans, especially through the just-reconnected cross-border railways.

In mid-May, the two Koreas conducted the historic test of the railways, reconnected for the first time since the 1950-53 Korean War. But it remains unclear when regular train service might start.


Famine: A Disaster Waiting to Happen

Sunday, July 8th, 2007

Korea Times
Andrei Lankov

aid.jpgNowadays, the severity of famine appears to be a thing of the past _ at least outside Africa. Indeed, modern technology makes it possible to feed crowded cities almost effortlessly. Thus, any reports of famine nowadays can be argued to be the direct result of mismanagement and deliberate political decisions. The recent North Korean famine of 1996-2000 vividly demonstrates this and supports such a theory.

Stalinist agriculture has never been very efficient. The lack of incentive makes it sluggish and wasteful. However, in some cases, the heavy investments in machinery and fertilizers did, in fact, help to overcome some of the deficiencies created by the inept social system.

This was the case in North Korea. In the late 1950s all North Korean farmers were herded into the so-called “agricultural co-operatives.’’ While less restrictive than the “people’s communes’’ in Mao’s China, they imposed a harsher control than Stalin’s “kolkhozs.’’

The North Korean government invested heavily in agriculture. Its efforts produced a remarkably energy-intensive agricultural system. Electric pumps were running huge irrigation projects; chemical fertilizers and tractors were used on a grand scale. In attempts to reclaim arable land, steep hills were made into terrace fields. These fields, endorsed by Kim Il-sung himself, remained the poster image of North Korean agriculture until the mid-1990s.

Initially these efforts seemingly paid off. In the 1980s North Korea produced some 5-6 million tons of grain (largely, rice and maize) a year. Its population never enjoyed anything like the present-day South Korean abundance: meat or fruits were rare delicacies. Nonetheless, the 6 million tons of grain was sufficient to feed the country’s population. This was done through the rationing system. Depending on one’s position in the complicated hierarchy of social groups, daily rations varied from 500 to 900 grams per adult _ sufficient to provide enough calories.

But in 1991 the situation changed. The much trumpeted “self-reliance’’ of North Korea proved to be a complete fake. The Soviet decision to discontinue sales of oil and other goods at hugely discounted prices wrought havoc in the country’s economy. The agricultural sector was especially vulnerable, since without the heavy input of energy and resources it stood no chance of survival. Tractors required diesel oil, which was not forthcoming, and electric pumps could not operate when power stations were idle due to a shortage of spare parts.

In 1992-1993 the North Korean media began to argue the benefits of having only two meals a day as opposed to the traditional three, claiming the latter was unhealthy and excessive. By 1994, people in some remote areas could not get food for days at a time. They were issued the usual rationing coupons, but no foodstuffs were available in the shops. Rations were also cut. These were signs of things to come.

However, the North Korean government did not follow the example of China or Vietnam, where the return to private agriculture led to an instant revival in food production. In the early 1990s the Pyongyang leaders saw how the reformist Communist governments of East Europe had been wiped out, and they considered any reform potentially dangerous to their own survival. Thus, no reform was undertaken, and in the years 1992-1995 agricultural production continued its free fall.

And then the real catastrophe came. In July and August 1995 unusually heavy rains led to disastrous floods. The North Korean authorities blamed the floods for all subsequent developments. In the aftermath of the disaster, they even decided to break with the decades-old tradition of covering or playing down all the problems of their country. Pyongyang stated that some 5.4 million people had been displaced by the 1995 floods (the subsequent U.N. survey indicated that the actual figure was much smaller _ probably, by an order of ten). Politically, this was understandable: if the country was hit by a natural disaster of unprecedented proportions, the authorities were not to be held responsible!

There is, however, good reason to doubt these statements. After all, the Korean Peninsular is small, but impact of the very same floods on the South was negligible. However, the contribution of the flood to the disaster is undeniable. The already strained power grid was destroyed, and entire irrigation systems were wiped out. Most of the terrace fields, the pride of the “juche agriculture,’’ were simply washed away.

In 1996, the country harvested some 3 million tons of grain _ just above half the pre-crisis level. This meant famine. It was to last for four years and take between half million and one million lives.


Kim Jong Il Gets the Gifts, and All North Korea Ends Up Paying

Wednesday, May 16th, 2007

Bradley Martin

For decades, tourists visiting North Korea have been brought to a 200-room, 70,000-square-meter palace completed in 1978 that displays presents to Kim Il Sung, the “Great Leader,” who died in 1994.

Starting with Joseph Stalin’s 1945 gift of a bulletproof railway carriage, the items include a stuffed bird from American evangelist Billy Graham and a piece of the Berlin Wall donated by a German writer.

These days most visiting foreign dignitaries bring gifts for Kim’s eldest son and successor, Kim Jong Il, 65. The junior Kim’s loot is housed in a 20,000-square-meter (215,278-square- foot) annex that was completed in 1996 — a time when a famine was starving tens of thousands of North Koreans.

Why would the country have spent vast sums on four-ton bronze doors and polished marble floors? “Our people couldn’t display all these precious gifts in a poor palace,” says tour guide Hong Myong Gun. “So we built this palace with our best.”

The gifts in the windowless “International Friendship Exhibition” at Mt. Myohyang, a two-hour drive north of the capital, Pyongyang, range from the trivial to the grandiose.

Cable News Network founder Ted Turner donated paperweights with the CNN logo. A tribal chief in Nigeria offered a throne featuring carved lions, with matching crown and walking stick. Romanian communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu brought the stuffed head of a bear he had hunted and killed.

Giving and Receiving

In Asia, the protocol of gift-giving has been well established since Chinese emperors began expecting visitors to bear tribute. The Chinese know how to give as well as to receive: Pride of place in the exhibit goes to one of their presents, a life-sized wax figure of Kim Il Sung standing on a three-dimensional representation of a lake shore.

Reverent music, calculated to induce bowing, plays in the background of the posthumous gift, the final exhibit viewed by visitors to the hall.

The elder Kim’s title of President for Eternity makes him the world’s only dead head of state, and Hong says he continues to receive gifts. As of last year, his presents numbered 221,411.

“No other president could draw so many presents, so our people live in pride,” she says. “Except for this place, where can you see such a sight?”

The annex for Kim Jong Il, whose titles include secretary general of the Workers’ Party and chairman of the Military Commission, houses 55,423 additional presents, Hong says. As with his father’s gifts, most of them were never used but were immediately donated to the exhibition.

A Dynasty Sedan

Some highlights in the annex: a 1998 luxury sedan from the founder of South Korea’s Hyundai group — the model named, appropriately enough, Dynasty — and two roomfuls of carved, gilded furniture from South Korea’s Ace Bed Co.

From time to time, groups of uniformed soldiers troop past to see the gifts. A high percentage of them are five feet tall or shorter. In the 1990s, North Korea reduced the minimum height for military service to 148 centimeters (4 foot 9 inches) from 150 centimeters and the minimum weight to 43 kilograms (95 pounds) from 48 kilograms, according to South Korea’s National Intelligence Service.

A 2004 World Food Program nutritional survey found that 37 percent of North Korean children suffered chronic malnutrition. The state “bears central responsibility” for the shrinking of North Koreans, says Marcus Noland of Washington’s Peterson Institute for International Economics, co-author of a new book about the famine.

Freeing Up Foreign Exchange

“As aid began arriving, the North Koreans cut commercial food imports, freeing up foreign exchange,” Noland said in an e-mail exchange.

The saved money was used to purchase surplus military aircraft from Kazakhstan and to build monuments “to the recently departed Great Leader Kim Il Sung and his son,” Noland says. If the regime had maintained the rate of commercial food imports during the 1990s, using aid as a supplement instead of a substitute, he says, “the famine could have been avoided.”

Noland estimates the death toll at 600,000 to 1 million; others have said as many as 4 million people may have died.

Tour guide Hong, 27, places the blame elsewhere. “From 1993 to 2000 our people suffered from countless natural disasters and also from other pressure in the economic field owing to the U.S. aggressors,” she says, referring to sanctions. Even during such hardships, she says, constructing the annex with the best materials was “the greatest desire of our people.”

As she speaks, there is a brief power blackout, a frequent occurrence in the energy-short country. When the lights come back on, Hong continues.

“Our people are very grateful because the Great Leader Kim Jong Il sent all the gifts here for the people to look at freely,” she says. “It was our duty to preserve them and show them to the new generation.”


Deliver Humanitarian Aid Directly to the Starving Affected Areas

Tuesday, February 20th, 2007

Daily NK
Kang Jae Hyok

Every year when spring arrives, North Korea faces yet another food crisis. 10 years after the “march of suffering,” North Korea has still made little change.

The greatest change that has occurred is by the North Korean people. The most of North Koreans have surpassed the ‘march of suffering’ and have survived by relying on themselves

In comparison to last year, the Korea Rural Development Administration (RDA) estimated that North Korea had experienced a loss of 1.8% (60 thousands tons) in agricultural production at 4.48 million tons of cereal. The World Food Program (WFP) also predicted similar figures at 4.3 million tons.

On the other hand, a national North Korea aid organization Good Friends reported that only 2.8 million tons of agricultural production had been made and that if any less than 1.5 million tons of food aid was supported, North Korea would be faced with another severe food crisis.

In the 90’s foreign aid could block mass starvation

During the “march of suffering” that began in the mid-90’s, food distributions were suddenly terminated. Nonetheless, people went on working, starving, believing that food distributions would begin once again.

However, one month passed then two, and still the distributions did not resume. In the end, the number of deaths from starvation began to arise. Yet, North Korean authorities did not respond with any countermeasures. As a result, in 3~4 years, 3mn North Korean citizens died of starvation.

Nonetheless, the tragic mass starvation that occurred at the time could have been stooped if it weren’t for the irresponsible acts of North Korean authorities. We can view this by analyzing the figures denoting the amount of aid supplied from 1995~1999.

Year   1995   1996   1997   1998   1999
Production of food
         3490   2500   2680   2830   4280
Aid from FAO
           980   1070   1440   1490   1190
Aid from S.Korea
           960   1050   1630   1030   1070
Food distributions in North Korea
         4450   3550   4120   3860   4450
       ~4470 ~3570 ~4310 ~4320 ~5476
Death rate 
               615    1704     549 
         (Unit: 1,000 tons, million persons)
Table of North Korea’s food production and foreign aid in the 90’s in comparison to the death rate. (Good Friends 06.12.22)

According to the table above, South Korea and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) aided North Korea with 2mn tons of food annually from 1995~1999.

If we consider that only 10,000 tons of food is needed to provide the whole of North Korea a day, then there would be no reason for a shortage in food distributions with a total of 3.7mn tons of food aid being supplied. According to the table above, annual aid provided to North Korea was 3.55mn tons at the minimum and 4.45mn tons maximum. This equates on average at 4.09mn tons of supplies.

However, during this period 3mn people died of starvation and 30mn people defected from North Korea. Contrary, there has never been a time where so much foreign aid was supplied to North Korea. Why then at a time where greatest aid was given to North Korea, was there the greatest number of deaths?

One of the essential reasons behind this occurrence was the fact that foreign aid never reached the provinces of North Hamkyung, Yangkang and Jakang where food was most needed. If food aid had been distributed to the areas most dire of starvation, then at the least, this incident would not have occurred.

At the time, most of the aid was distributed preferentially to soldiers, authorities and powerful ministers in Pyongyang. On the whole, aid to North Korea had been sent via ship through Nampo, Haeju and Wonsan harbor, then supplied to Pyongyang and South Pyongan province.

During the 90’s, transportation of cargo was practically immobilized due to the shortage of electricity and lack of fuel which ultimately led to the suspension of locomotives. On the whole, goods are transported via railroad, however, in the 90’s, both passenger and freight trains had come to a halt.

Basically, it takes about a fortnight to travel return, from Wonsan, Gangwon province to Najin, North Hamkyung on train 21. The Pyongyang-Tumen River train which departs from Pyongyang to Sunbong, North Hamkyung on train 1, also takes more than 10 days travel return.

Back then, it took twice as long to for a freight train to reach its destination in comparison to a passenger train. 10,000 tons of foreign aid that arrived at Wonsan harbor took 2~3 months to transport from North Hamkyung to Chongjin. In other words, it would take more than 2 years to distribute 100,000 tons of food to Wonsan in Gangwon province to Chongjin in North Hamkyung province. Hence, it is pointless to rely on railroad to distribute goods.

Losses incurred while transporting aid

Further, 30~40% of goods go missing while being transported. Every time a cargo train stops, guards responsible for the goods sell rice to traders at wholesale prices so they can use the profits to live. Also, street kids and thieves often steal the goods so that the intial 1,000 ton of rice is often depleted to 600~700 tons upon arriving at its destination.

The problem is that North Korean authorities well aware of this fact that are unwilling to modify the routes or assert change. Ultimately, foreign aid is distributed throughout the regions of Pyongan province where the situation of food is relatively good in comparison to the rest of North Korea.

As rice only lands in the hands of people living in Pyongyang and Pyonan where influential ministers and Kim Jong Il’s elite reside, it can only be analyzed that this situation is occurring under specific motives. In the end, the majority of deaths occurred in Hamkyung, Yangkang and Jakang, and the situation has remained the same until today.

Following the missile launch and nuclear experiment, last year South Korea and the international community suspended food aid to North Korea, and in Feb 13th, the third phase of 5th round 6 Party talks ended with the South Korean government confirming that food aid would resume.

Undoubtedly international food aid is important but unless rice is distributed to the areas in most need, a similar situation to the 90’s will occur once again.

More importantly and urgently, aid must be delivered directly to the provinces of Yangkang, Hamkyung and Jangang. Thinking that North Korean authorities will wisely distribute food aid throughout the country is merely a South Korean fallacy.


Food aid key to N Korea talks

Thursday, February 8th, 2007


As six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear programme resume in Beijing, the BBC’s Penny Spiller considers whether food shortages in the secretive communist state may have an impact on progress. 

Negotiators for the US, North Korea, China, Japan, South Korea and Russia are meeting in Beijing amid signs of a willingness to compromise.

While the last round of talks in December ended in deadlock, bilateral meetings since then have brought unusually positive responses from both North Korea and the US.

Such upbeat noises were unexpected, coming four months after North Korea shocked the world by testing a nuclear bomb.

The test brought international condemnation and UN sanctions, as well as a significant drop in crucial food aid.

South Korea suspended a shipment of 500,000 tonnes of food supplies, while China’s food exports last year were sharply down.

The World Food Programme has struggled to raise even 20% of the funds it requires to feed 1.9 million people it has identified as in immediate need of help.

Aid agencies warned at the time of a humanitarian disaster within months, as the North cannot produce enough food itself to supply its population. It also lost an estimated 100,000 tonnes-worth of crops because of floods in July.

‘Queues for rations’

Kathi Zellweger, of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation in Pyongyang, said the present food situation in the country was unclear.

No figures are yet available for last year’s harvest, and it was difficult to assess what impact the lack of food aid was having on supplies, she said.

However, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation estimated the country was short of one million tonnes of food – a fifth of the annual requirement to feed its 23 million people.

South Korea-based Father Jerry Hammond said there were signs of shortages – not only in food but also in fuel – when he visited the North with the Catholic charity Caritas in December.

He described seeing long queues for rations, and ordinary people selling goods in the street for money to buy the basics.

“You do expect to see more shortages during the winter time,” the US-born priest, who has visited North Korea dozens of times in the past decade, said.

“But I did see a noticeable difference this time.”

High malnutrition rates

Paul Risley, of the World Food Programme, said people in North Korea may still be cushioned by the November harvest and the pinch will be felt in the coming months.

“We have great concerns,” he said, pointing out that North Korea was now in its second year of food shortages.

He says “stabilising food security” in the country will be very relevant to the talks in Beijing.

“It is certainly the hope of all who are observing the situation in [North Korea] that imports of food can be resumed and returned to prior levels,” he said.

“Malnutrition rates are still the highest in Asia, and we certainly don’t want to see those rates rise any further.”

Father Hammond thinks Pyongyang may be persuaded to consider compromises in Beijing, but is unlikely to do so as a result of any pressure from the people of North Korea.

“People are very cut off from the outside world, and there is constant propaganda about national survival. Even if they go hungry, it will be considered patriotic,” he said.

There have been signs of possible compromise from both sides in the run up to the talks.

Washington has reportedly hinted at flexibility over its offer of aid and security guarantees, as well as showing a willingness to sit down and discuss North Korea’s demands to lift financial sanctions.

Meanwhile, North Korea reportedly recently told visiting US officials it would take the first steps to disband its nuclear programme in return for 500,000 tonnes of fuel oil and other benefits.

And South Korea is keen to resume its shipments of rice and fertiliser aid – if Pyongyang agrees to freeze its nuclear programme, the Choson Ilbo newspaper has reported.

As the nuclear talks resume, all sides will be looking to translate such pressures into progress.


N. Korean Food Program Needs Funds to Continue to 2009, UN Says

Friday, February 2nd, 2007
Emma O’Brien

The United Nations program to feed about a quarter of North Korea’s 24 million people needs funds to operate until 2009, after countries such as the U.S. ended or reduced their support, the head of the World Food Program said.

“We only have 16 percent of the funds needed to do our work in North Korea over the next two years,” James T. Morris said late yesterday in Wellington, New Zealand. “The U.S. used to be our largest donor in North Korea, but we haven’t received any money from them for the past 8 to 9 months.”

More than 1 million people died in North Korea during the 1990s as a result of famine caused by drought, floods and economic mismanagement. North Korea’s international isolation deepened last October when the United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions after the communist country tested its first nuclear bomb.

The North Korea government said in 2005 it no longer needed the UN program that aimed to feed about 6.5 million people because it succeeded in harvesting enough grain. Floods last year reduced grain production by an estimated 90,000 metric tons, almost one-fifth of the minimum harvest needed to feed the population, the WFP said at the time.

“I am very concerned about the situation in North Korea,” Morris said, as the country’s crop deficit is forecast to be 1 million tons this year. “We are not able to do our job unless there is additional support to provide food.”

Morris, who will leave the directorship of the WFP early this year after 5 years at the helm, was in Wellington for talks with New Zealand’s aid agency, NZAID, on food aid to East Timor. His speech to the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs was his last on an international visit.

The WFP and its sister agencies, the UN Development Program and the UN children’s fund Unicef, are the only major non- governmental organizations still active in North Korea.

Government Restrictions

North Korea is the only country in the world where the UN program has to work through the government. The administration chooses all their local workers and all food has to be distributed via government-selected contractors.

“It’s the only place in the world where we don’t have universal access,” Morris said. “The government makes life very difficult for our work.”

The program used to distribute to 183 counties in North Korea. The government now restricts them to 29. Constraints placed on the program by the government are “abhorrent and unacceptable,” he said.

The average 7-year-old North Korean boy is 8 inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter than his South Korean counterpart, Morris said, and 40 percent of North Korean women are anemic.

Russia, China

Russia is now the largest contributor to North Korean aid, Morris said. The U.S. provided about 47 percent of all contributions, in both commodities and funds, over the past 10 years. The WFP, the UN’s largest division, had an operating budget of more than $2.8 billion last year, he said.

China and South Korea, which send food directly to North Korea, are also scaling down their aid.

“They intend to reduce their bilateral food and fertilizer assistance,” Morris said, adding China’s toughened stance toward North Korea since the missile test may be behind the move.

China, North Korea’s closest ally, supported the UN sanctions imposed after the nuclear test that ban sales of military equipment and luxury goods to the country. The U.S. imposed financial restrictions on North Korean bank accounts in October 2005 over allegations of money laundering and counterfeiting.

The issue stalled talks between North Korea, the U.S., China, Japan, South Korea and Russia on dismantling North Korea’s nuclear program. The forum resumed in December after a 13-month break with North Korea refused to enter discussions within the six-nation forum until the U.S. lifts the sanctions.

The six nations will hold another round of talks in Beijing beginning Feb. 8.


North Koreans hoarding rice

Monday, October 23rd, 2006

From the Daily NK:
Kang Jae Hyok

According to a North Korean source, while international community has been worried that North Korea will undergo “the second march of tribulation”, recently the number of North Korean people who lay in rice has been increasing.

Kim Jong Hee(pseudonym, 39), Chungjin resident said on the phone interview with the DailyNK that, “In spite of Fall, the price of rice is not decreasing”, and “These days the number of people who buy rice is sharply increasing”.

Kim added that from last June the price of rice is 1,000~1,200 won (0.30 US$~0.36 US$) per 1kg and in August it increased up to 1,300 won, yet even in October(now) the price is not decreasing. The price of corn wet up to 300 or 400 won.

It is natural that in fall the price of rice goes down and in spring goes up. So people lay in rice in fall. However, given that the price of rice does not go down until now, in the next spring it will be expected to go up more. Because of it, it seams that people lay in more rice in advance.

The exchange rate of yuan in black market is 360won of North Korea per 1 yuan. In 1990, the exchange rate was 1:25 and in 2002 after the 7.1. Economic Management Improvement Measure it was 1: 300. Recently it goes up to 1: 360. In addition, 1 dollar is 3,300 won of North Korea.
“Only interested in survival, never in nuclear test”

Responding to a question “do you know North Korea did nuclear test?”, Kim said that, “I do not care about whether the North Korean government did the test or not. I am busy supporting our family so I have time to think about that”. According to him, because there have been electronic lights there, people cannot know about what happened in the world.

Kim who is a vendor selling Chinese goods in Sunam market, Chungjin said that for a few days Chinese vendors have not come in Chungjin and now are around Haeryung. In the past the Chinese vendors came in once a week, yet now it is letting up at the same time the price of goods are increasing.

Regarding this trend, some people explained that because of the tension in Korean peninsular caused by the nuclear test the Chinese vendors have visited less and less and because of the censoring in goods introduced in North Korea, the amount of goods coming in North Korea has decreased.

Kim said that now Chinese goods in North Korean markets amount for more than 80%. If the sanction of China against North Korea is taken, the North Korean Jangmadangs will be negatively influenced.

Kim also said that, “Unless the Chinese goods are not introduced, we cannot survive”, and now it is the time to lay in rice for the next spring. This is what is most important to us now”.


Is DPRK preparing for another ‘Arduous March’?

Tuesday, October 17th, 2006

From the Daily NK:
If a Second Tribulation March Arrives?
Han Young Jin

On the 14th, the Rodong Shinmun, a N. Korean state newspaper, urged “We must take a strong conviction in regards to socialism and go out to fight with faith and optimism.” On the 13th, the Minju Chosun (Democratic Korea), the government organ, claimed “Even if we have to face the second and third ‘Tribulation March,’ you need not worry. Rather we must fight with overt confidence and audacity.”

Ever since the nuke experiments government channels have been using this propaganda This suggests that North Korean authorities were already prepared for sanctions by the international community.

People’s mentality “If you trust the nation, you will die of starvation”

During the first “Tribulation March” in the mid-90’s, about 300,000 people died over a period of 3 years from starvation. What would happen if the second tribulation march was to occur as a result of the U.N. North Korea resolution? How would it differ from the first?

The reason that 300,000 people died from starvation lies in the fundamental man-made disaster, where Kim Jong Il’s political ideology of “government teachings” and development of reform were abandoned after his death to “revival of one’s own strength.”

Beginning with munitions workers, about 50,000 people who trusted and were loyal to the government, including many intellectuals such as scientists and technicians died of starvation.

When comparing the past to the present, the people of the 90’s trusted only in their government as they did not have any other knowledge. Thus they were hit with a sudden blow, however this time it is different, as the North Korean people are already filled with “immunity.”

Above all, North Korean people are now aware of their own existence and are saying “If you trust the nation, you will die from starvation.” At the time, people tacitly in trade knew that they would not die of hunger. Today, high officials have changed their mentality and have abandoned the ideology of being the “People’s emissary” to ‘I must devise a plan to live, while I have the power.’

Since 2000, irrespective of whether or not the nation distributed rations in the fall, people have begun to devise their own ways to live. While city dwellers are living off their trade, villagers are providing their own rations through cultivation and farming off mountains.

After the 7.1 economic measures, capitalism was steadily introduced and the people’s spontaneity increased. Hence, this time it seems that the mass starvation of the mid-90’s may be escaped.

However, as a result of long term malnutrition, it is possible that many deaths will occur from disease and infectious epidemics.

A complete breakdown in industry and infrastructure

According to data from the World Food Program (WFP) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), North Korea’s output of grain in 95~96 was 4,070,000 tons and 2,874,000 tons in 96~97. This is a significantly low figure compared to the necessary amount of 6,400,000 tons.

Even today, little has changed. Last year, the typhoon caused an output of 4,800,000 tons of crop. Hence, the insufficient rations of the 90’s ‘Tribulation March’ period, is similar to this time.

During the first tribulation march, there was no electricity so factories ceased operations and workers began to sell equipment taken from their workplace in trade of rations. What happened was a collapse in the main infrastructure of factories.

The worker’s riot in 1996 that arose from suppression of operations at the Yellow Sea Iron Works, also originated from workers taking factory materials to trade for food. A defector from ‘September Iron Works’ in Pyongan said “During the tribulation march, everyone took materials from work to trade. If it occurs again, people will most probably dig up the main support.”

The infrastructure collapse of the 90’s was near to impossible to rebuild by North Korea alone. Since 1998, the economy has somewhat stabilized, however full reconstruction has never been acheived and rather only parts of the country has recovered.

The key point will be when China participates in the North Korea sanctions

If the second tribulation march was to occur, the main point will be commerce with China. Last March, Professor Xuwenji of Northeast Asia Research and Development Institute, Jilian University visited North Korea. He said “About 70% of North Korean markets are made up of Chinese products, 20% of products are made in North Korea and the remaining 10% is either Japanese or Russian products.”

Currently, daily necessary products such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, and soap, welding rods and even tires at North Korean markets are all made in China. In the case that the trade of daily necessities is disconnected, this will undoubtedly affect North Korea dramatically. In the end, the key point is to what extent China will compliantly follow the North Korea resolution.

The number of Chinese enterprises trying to evade North Korean investments is also variable. After North Korea’s nuclear experiment, rumors spread that Chinese banks beginning from Dandong had ceased remitting funds to North Korea and that many Chinese businesses had begun to suspend or terminate North Korean investments.

If commerce is suspended between North Korea and China, North Korea will not be able to satisfy all of its necessary daily products by relying on illicit trade.

There are also rumors that barbed wire will be placed bordering the region of the Yalu River, which will further affect smuggling of goods. As official trade between the two countries becomes illegal and daily necessities cannot be supplied from China through smuggling, the North Korean people will experience yet another fatal blow to their lives.

Furthermore, if North Korea does proclaim its second tribulation march and returns to the times of the mid-90’s, the Kim Jong Il regime could be greatly affected.

Above all, as the mentality of the people has changed, no longer will they listen submissively to the government. Rather, they will be more inclined to find ways to sustain their own life existence and make all attempts to defect to China. Amongst these circumstances, there may even be bloodshed between soldiers and the people.

Also, if high ranking military officials and soldiers decide that they cannot possibly live amongst these circumstances, it is possible that they will abandon their barracks. One thing is certain they will not simply sit around and wait to die from starvation. If high ranking military officials and soldiers did withdraw from their barracks on the mass, it is possible that the Kim Jong Il regime will face a threat to destruction.


Sanctions only hurt those on bottom-no matter where imposed III

Tuesday, October 17th, 2006

From the Korea Herald:
Sanctions will cripple N.K. economy: KIEP
Kim So-hyun

The international sanctions to be imposed on North Korea will further cut into the country’s moribund trade volume and drag it deeper into recession, a South Korean think tank said in a report released yesterday.

The sanctions – being taken under a U.N. Security Council resolution – will likely reduce the North Korean economy to a state worse than in the mid-1990s when millions died of hunger, the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy said.

“The North Korean economy is expected to contract much more severely than in the so-called ‘marching in torment’ times (in the mid-1990s),” the KIEP report said. “More financial sanctions and a block on foreign capital inflow will deepen the shortage of foreign currency, resulting in a wider gap between market and official exchange rates.”

The official exchange rate of the North Korean currency was 137 won to the U.S. dollar in the first half of 2005. However, the dollar was traded for between 1,900 won and 2,600 won in the market, up to 19 times higher than the official rate.

The prohibition of financial transactions and capital inflow is regarded as the most powerful punitive measure since it has been cited by Pyongyang as one of the main reasons for boycotting six-party talks and pressing ahead with its reported test of a nuclear device.

“Although trade accounts for less than 15 percent of North Korea’s gross domestic production, trade and support from neighboring countries allowed its economy to inch up a bit recently,” said Choi Soo-young of the Korea Institute for National Unification.

“Whereas the North could ask for international help when it suffered natural calamities such as draughts in the mid-1990s, it now has to live without such generous aid.”

Since the U.N. resolution bans direct or indirect supply of weapons or any materials that could contribute to the North’s weapons of mass destruction programs, a reduction in Chinese imports of related materials could trigger stagnation in the nation’s machinery, electronics and chemicals output, the KIEP report said.

“The trade volume between North Korea and China has surged by some 30 percent a year since 1999, and this has accelerated the North’s economic growth by 3.5 percentage points annually,” KIEP researcher Chung Seung-ho said.

China accounts for about 40 percent of North Korea’s relatively small volume of trade. South Korea, Thailand, Russia and Japan each take up 26 percent, 8.1 percent, 5.7 percent and 4.8 percent, respectively, according to Chung.

It remains to be seen whether neighboring countries will take individual measures in addition to the sanctions under the U.N. Security Council resolution.

The United States, Japan and Australia are considering harsher measures of their own while South Korea and China seem reluctant to follow suit.

“As China’s involvement in the sanctions is likely to be only symbolic, the level of South Korean participation will determine the degree of the North’s economic decline,” KINU’s Choi said.

China could consider reducing its uncompensated grants to North Korea, which soared 162 percent to $38 million last year, according to KIEP.

“China is expected to partially or entirely stop the trade of machinery and electronics that could be related to weapons of mass destruction in North Korea, but it wouldn’t go as far as forbidding private commercial trade across the border,” the report said.

“Stopping the supply of crude oil, for which North Korea depends entirely on China, is unlikely.”