Archive for the ‘Urban Economics’ Category

Kim Jong-un’s Party Congress prep: construction projects

Tuesday, April 19th, 2016

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Kim Jong-un has made at least two announcements recently, as the Korean Worker’s Party heads for its 7th Party Congress in May, about construction projects to be done. One of them is an orphanage in Ryanggang province, Daily NK reports:

Projects underway to promote Kim Jong Un’s legacy as a leader ahead of the 7th Party Congress in May are said to be in full swing across the nation. One such project taking place in Ryanggang Province calls for the full mobilization of residents to build an orphanage as an expression of the leader’s “love for the next generation,” Daily NK has learned.

“Authorities have recently been harassing residents saying that the orphanage under construction next to Kim Jong Suk Teachers’ College in Yonbong-dong needs to be ready for the Marshal’s (Kim Jong Un) inspection by the time of the Party Congress,” a source in Ryanggang Province told Daily NK on Thursday. “The provincial party office has been hurrying people along, claiming the construction must be completed before the event.”

Progress was said to be slow during the winter, which was unseasonably cold, but construction efforts are now appearing to ramp up.

The project is being driven by the provincial head secretary and other cadres from the provincial Party and People’s Committee and is being promoted as a means to express loyalty to the leader, who has emphasized his “love for children,” said the source.

She added that cadres associated with the efforts, who have confidently stated that the facility will see completion before the Party Congress, have also been intensifying crackdowns on those seeking to avoid mobilization, out of concern that failure to complete the project on time may lead to issues of accountability.

“Vendors who are busy trying to make a living in the market were often able to get out (of mobilization) with bribes, but even that isn’t easy now,” a separate source in Ryanggang Province explained.

“The price for skipping a day of mobilization is now up to 10 RMB (13,000 KPW) a day per head, so some find it more affordable to just go to the construction site.”

The 13,000 KPW demanded is enough to purchase approximately 2kg of rice based on current prices, which is far from negligible for most members of the public. The higher price tag in effect acts as a tool to turn up the heat on people for mobilization.

The pressure to complete the project before the major political gathering has led to mobilization of students in the afternoons and workers at state-run factory as well.

The near full mobilization also involves specialized colleges, meaning that among the younger generation, stormtroopers (who are working on a railway project in Samjiyon) are seemingly the only group among ordinary residents that are exempt from the orphanage project.

Full article:
Kim Jong Un calls for construction of new orphanage in time for Party Congress
Kang Mi Jin
Daily NK

IFES at Kyungnam University has also published an analysis of the news about the Ryomyong street project, which Curtis has already written about in this blog. They note that the recent sanctions do not seem to have altered plans for the project. Kim Jong-un’s rhetoric instead highlights the project as a blow against the international community and the US — North Korea will go full steam ahead on its own policies and no outside pressure can hold them back (my emphasis below):

On March 18, the state media Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that Kim Jong Un declared the construction of ‘Ryomyong Street’, which is to be built between Kumsusan Palace of the Sun and the Ryonghung Crossroads in Pyongyang. The street’s name signifies a place where ‘the dawn breaks in the Korean revolution’. Kim also mentioned that the area is to be surrounded by magnificent skyscrapers and multi-level buildings that fit the geographical characteristics surrounding the palace, displaying the Party’s idea of giving importance to science and talents in socialist Korea.
Along these lines, Kim put emphasis on the policy of securing building materials in constructing the new street and to diversify the size, design and color of decorative objects on the exterior of buildings. He also instructed for the mobilization of ‘soldier-builders’ who previously worked on the construction of Mirae Scientists Street. The construction of the new street shall be carried out with “Mallima speed” during the country’s ‘70-day campaign’ in run-up to the Party Congress scheduled for this upcoming May. The news report also stated that “the party, state, and society should render positive assistance to the construction and the Cabinet, commissions, ministries and national institutions take the lead in this work.”

According to the report, Kim Jong Un also said that “The construction of the street is not merely for formation of a street but serves as a political occasion of clearly showing the spirit of the DPRK standing up and keeping up with the world, despite all sorts of sanctions and pressure by U.S. imperialists and their followers, the appearance of the country advancing to realize the great ideal of the people and truth that the DPRK is able to be well-off in its own way and nothing is impossible for it to do.” The construction of the street appears in part as a means to show off the strength of ‘Songun’ Korea, following in the footsteps of Kim Jong Il’s policy.

Despite the strong sanctions imposed upon the country by the international community, North Korea is striving to achieve some form of economic success. The 70-day campaign has been initiated in the run-up to the Seventh Congress of the Workers’ Party. North Korean media are boasting about the country’s successes on the production front since the campaign’s initiation, saying “under the Juche ideology, people are working hard especially in the fields of electricity, coal, metal, and railroad transportation that they have achieved great success in the [campaign’s] first week.”

Full article here:
North Korea to Construct ‘Ryomyong Street’ Despite Sanctions
Institute for Far Eastern Studies


Gravity-fed tap water system established in DPRK

Sunday, March 22nd, 2015

According to KCNA:

Gravity-fed Tap Water System Established in DPRK

Pyongyang, March 22 (KCNA) — Today marks World Water Day.

In this regard, Ri Nam Hyon, section chief of the DPRK Ministry of Urban Management, noted that the government has striven to supply quality drinking water to citizens on a normal basis.

He told KCNA:

The DPRK government has made big efforts to the introduction of gravity-fed water supply system.

This introduction began in the township of Pukchong County, South Hamgyong Province, in 2003 while a brisk work was launched to explore the headstreams throughout the country.

At present, the gravity-fed water supply system has been established in 35 cities and counties, including Rason and Wonsan, across the country.

The establishment of this system was carried out in cooperation with the United Nations Children’s Fund and other international bodies and governmental and non-governmental agencies of various countries.


Pyongyang is estimated to hold 3m people

Saturday, August 2nd, 2014

According to Yonhap:

More than 3 million people are estimated to be living in North Korea’s capital city of Pyongyang, a research report said Saturday.

A total of 3.06 million people are living in the capital city as of this year, an increase of 7 percent from two years ago, the U.S.-based consulting firm, Demographia, said in its report on the world’s urban areas published in May.

According to the firm’s 2012 report, Pyongyang was home to 2.86 million people. It is unclear whether this is the first time that the city’s population has surpassed 3 million.

Pyongyang’s land area measures 176 square kilometers and the capital has a population density of 17,400 people per square kilometer, ranking it 142nd out of the world’s 863 cities in terms of population scale and 34th in density, according to the report.

The eastern city of Hamhung was found to be the communist country’s second-largest city in terms of population with 750,000 people and the northeastern city of Chongjin came in third with 650,000.

The full report can be found here.

Read the full story here:
N.K. capital of Pyongyang has over 3 mln people: research


Kim Jong-un: urban planner [Book on land management]

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

UPDATE 2 (2013-9-10): According to Yonhap:

A speech made by North Korea’s young leader Kim Jong-un last year that detailed his plan on land management has been published in Chinese, a state media report said Tuesday, in what is believed to be his first Chinese-language publication.

The Chinese-version of Kim’s speech, titled “On Brining About a Revolutionary Turnabout in National Land Management Work to Meet the Demand of Building a Powerful Socialist State,” was published on Sept. 3 in Dandong, China’s border city with North Korea, China News Service reported.

According to the report, the speech by Kim was published by a Chinese printing firm named “Longshan,” but it did not give other information, including the name of its publisher or whether the publication is being sold.

Kim, who took power in late 2011 following the death of his father, Kim Jong-il, made the speech on April 27 of last year, while convening a meeting of key members of the North’s Workers’ Party of Korea and economic organizations.

During the April 27 meeting, Kim said, “Land management is a patriotic work for the eternal prosperity of the country, and a noble work for providing the people with better living conditions,” according to a report by the North’s state media at the time.

Kim also ordered officials to improve water management, including the improvement of rivers and streams as well as dams, lock gates and “gravity-fed waterways and irrigation channels.”

Read the full story here:
N. Korean leader’s plan on land management published in Chinese

UPDATE 1 (2012-11-19): Aidan Foster-Carter has sent me a Naenara link to Kim Jong-un’s full remarks (published in English).

I have put the entire speech into a PDF which you can view here.

ORIGINAL POST (2012-5-8): On 2012-5-8 KCNA posted two articles citing a publication by Kim Jong-un on “land management”. The paper, titled “On Effecting a Drastic Turn in Land Management to Meet the Requirements for Building a Thriving Socialist Nation”, was not posted but will no doubt be offered for sale to Pyongyang tourists before too long. However until I receive a copy, the two KCNA articles below will have to do:



Ryongsong water-purifying station completed

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

Here is the relevant satellite imagery from Google Earth which shows the construction of the facility (which began in late 2005):


Image Dates: (L) 2005-8-5, (R) 2005-10-5


Image Dates: (L) 2006-11-11, (R) 2009-4-16


Image Dates: (L) 2010-3-28, (R) 2010-10-6

You can see the facility in Google Maps here.

Here is the story according to KCNA:

Pyongyang, November 9 (KCNA) — The Ryongsong Water-purifying Station has been built on a modern basis.

Latticing, detritus chamber, settling basin and others were successfully built to ensure the flow of clean water into the River Pothong and provide the people in the capital city with better living conditions and circumstances.

A ceremony for its completion took place on Wednesday.

Present there were Vice-premier Jon Ha Chol, officials concerned, scientists, builders and workers.

Hwang Hak Won, minister of Urban Management, addressing the ceremony, noted that the station was perfectly completed in a short span of time.

He stressed the need to strictly abide by the requirements of the technical regulations in managing and operating the station, further perfect the processes and make green-belt in its surrounding area.

Additional information:

1. Some Pyongyang water sanitation projects  have been funded by Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development.

2. Here is a previous post on waste management in the DPRK.


DPRK-ROK urbanization

Sunday, January 2nd, 2011

According to Yonhap:

South Korea’s level of urbanization first exceeded that of North Korea in the 1980s, and the gap may widen to 24 percentage points by 2015, data by the South Korean statistical office and the United Nations showed Sunday.

The South’s urbanization rate reached 83 percent as of 2010 while the corresponding figure for the communist North stood at 60.2 percent, giving South Korea a 22.8 percentage point lead, reports of global urbanization forecast by Statistics Korea and the U.N. showed.

The urbanization rate calculates the proportion of a country’s total population living in city areas and indicates its level of modernization or industrialization, which encourages more movement of population to cities.

North Korea showed a higher level of urbanization in 1975 with 56.7 percent, compared with the South’s 48 percent, but the difference has started to narrow since then, the reports showed. The South eclipsed the communist country in the 1980s.

The urbanization rate is forecast to reach 84.4 percent for South Korea by 2015 while the ratio for the North may only inch up to 61 percent, expanding the difference to 23.4 percentage points five years from now, according to the reports.

The growing urbanization gap is attributable to the two separated countries’ differing fates. While the South pushed for aggressive industrialization and export-led growth, the North remained closed to the global market and stayed underdeveloped.

The U.N. report also forecast the population of the South’s two major cities — Seoul and Busan — to reach 10,007,000 and 3,322,000, respectively, while the population of Pyongyang and Nampho, two main cities of the North, are expected to stand at only 2,859,000 and 1,187,000, respectively.

The two countries have technically remained at war since their 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

Read the full story here:
Two Koreas’ urbanization gap likely to widen further by 2015: reports


Hamhung’s (future) residential construction

Monday, July 12th, 2010

I have previously posted about residential construction in the DPRK in Ryongchon (here) and Pyongyang (here and here).

Apparently Hamhung is on the government’s list of urban areas that need to be rebuilt. KCNA reported on May 2o:

After touring Hamhung City, [Kim Jong-il] examined a miniature of the city construction layout plan and other plans for the development of major economic fields in South Hamgyong Province and guided the work in this domain on the spot.

Underscoring the need to build Hamhung City under a long-term plan by thoroughly applying the socialist principle, the principle of popular character as it is the industrial city with a large number of workers, he specified the orientation and ways to do so.

Here is a photo of Kim Jong-il inspecting that very miniature mentioned in the KCNA piece.



Click image for larger version

Here is a Google Earth satellite image of this same area as it appears today–taken from the same angle:


The ghost of Ceauşescu is lurking.  Who knows if they will ever get around to completing this task, but it is apparent they intend to remake Hamhung in the image of Kwangbok Street or Rakrang in Pyongyang.

Jane Jacobs is rolling in her grave.


Miscellaneous foreign assistance documents

Monday, July 12th, 2010

Several reports on various foreign assistance programs in the DPRK have been piling up on my desktop so I thought I would go ahead and post them for you.  They are not particularly timely, but they are full of interesting information.

U.S. Bilateral Food Assistance to North Korea Had Mixed Results (PDF)
June 2000

DPRK: Water and sanitation in three counties of Kangwonin three counties of Kangwon Province (Thongchon, Chonnae, Popdong)
Reliefweb Mission Report
March 2002

Rehabilitation of Thongchon, Popdong and Chonnae Water Supply systems (Kangwon Province, DPR of Korea)
Reliefweb Mission Report
June 2002

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea: Operations Report
International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies
Appeal no. MDRKP001
November 15, 2007

The IFRC contains the below photo of a flooded clinic:


This clinic is in Nyongwon at 39°50’3.51″N, 126°32’18.64″E.  Here is a satellite image:


The sad part is that the damage caused by flooding is in large part an unintended consequence of agriculture, deforestation, and hydro-power policies.  This clinic lies behind the Taedonggang Dam in Tokchon (satellite image here).


Waste management in the DPRK

Sunday, April 25th, 2010

UPDATE: Lots of additional helpful information in the comments section at the bottom of this post.

ORIGINAL POST: It is not glamorous, but it is interesting–and largely unexplored.

In all the time I have spent visiting or investigating the DPRK I have been curious about how they handle waste management and sanitation.  There is not much written on the subject (other than periodic reports that people collect their solid waste for fertilizer, or that school kids were sent out to collect it during the Arduous March), so I thought I would kick off a discussion about the topic and if any readers can point out more information, I would appreciate it.

Where does the garbage go?
On my second trip to the DPRK, I saw a garbage incinerator next to the Moranbong Middle School.


Click on the image above for a larger version.  The garbage incinerator is in the lower left corner. A satellite image showing its location is here. It is awkwardly placed next to the school and a children’s playground, and it is probably for use by residents of the nearby apartment block.  Maybe this is under the control of the building inminban.  After seeing it, however, I assumed that residents of Pyongyang simply burned their trash in similar facilities all across the city—but I never saw another incinerator in Pyongyang or any other city I visited. Later I was told by some defectors that garbage was collected (for some anyway–I don’t have any details) and that garbage is buried in actual landfills.  Since the DPRK is a poor country, we can expect the level of garbage to be lower than in neighboring countries, but in all the thousands of hours I have spent looking at North Korea on Google Earth, I never saw an easily identifiable landfill…until March of this year.  Below is both the largest (and only) landfill I have identified in the DPRK:


The coordinates are  37°57’12.80″N, 125°21’36.11″E in Ongjin (South West).  It is approximately 33 meters in diameter at its widest point.  There is no telling what is in there or how well it is sealed off from the local water table.  If any former residents of Ongjin happen to see this post and can fill in the details, please let me know.

One highly-qualified reader asserts that there is no way this could be a landfill, but has no idea what it could be.  If anyone else has a hypothesis about this location, please let me know.

Sewage Investments:
I have also been cataloging sewage and water treatment facilities across the DPRK.  Not surprisingly, there are few to be found.  The largest facility, however seems to be under construction north of Pyongyang.  It has been under construction since approximately August 2005 and it is still not complete.  It is located at  39° 7’6.80″N, 125°46’20.87″E, and here are some photos of its development:




Thanks to a tip from Michael we can also see the crumbling of the Phyongchon District (Pyongyang) sewage plant:



Kuwait was reported to be lending the DPRK $21m to update its water and sewage facilities. The indispensable Stalin Search engine has more on Kuwait and the DPRK.

So if anyone knows of any papers, etc. on sanitation in the DPRK, please let me know.


The urban dimension of the North Korean economy: A speculative analysis

Sunday, August 9th, 2009

Chapter 11 of North Korea in the World Economy
Bertrand Renauld

(NKeconWatch: the whole paper is worth reading in full.  Below is the introduction.  Here is a link to the chapter in Google Books.


This chapter explores the urban dimension of the North Korean economy. Few areas of economic management of centrally planned economies have met with such widespread dissatisfaction and broad popular support for reforms as housing and urban development. This dissatisfaction arises from the peculiar systemic features of the “socialist city.” Since the early 1990s we have been able to study the economics of this type of city based on data from cities of the former Soviet Union, Central Europe, and also China and Vietnam. Of course, no such access to information exists today in North Korea.

As a starting point, I ask only one question: based on the body of knowledge that we have gained from other centrally planned economies (CPE), what are the systemic features of the North Korean urban economy that we expect to find? By so doing, the chapter applies to North Korean cities the method of “rigorous speculation” used earlier by Noland et al. (2000a) on North Korean macroeconomic and trade performance. According to Noland and his colleagues, “rigorous speculation” is the incorporation of fragmentary information into a consistent analytical framework that can clarify alternative scenarios regarding current economic conditions in North Korea. The results can then suggest suitable reforms to stimulate the economy.

Using a medical analogy, the focus is how the “personal history and diagnosis” of the North Korean urban system should be conducted some day. The analysis should not be misconstrued or misused: it is not offered as an actual diagnosis of the North Korean urban system. Rather, using our body of knowledge of the anatomy and physiology of the “socialist city,” it speculates about what we should expect to find in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) urban system. This “pre-diagnosis” relies on the limited yet often revealing information available on the North Korean urban system and its patterns of investment. We also can narrow the range of uncertainty about the structure of the North Korean urban system by means of international comparisons. For instance, should we expect the North Korea system of cities to have more in common with the Soviet cities of Russia than with Chinese or Vietnamese cities, both in terms of time paths of development and of institutional arrangements?

The paper contains many interesting facts and data that help us understand just how different centrally planned/socialist cities are when compared with market-based cities.  The paper also spells out some interesting implications for North Korea’s urban residents (the majority of the country’s population) once the transition from a socialist to a market-based infrastructure begins.