Yanji, China -- Things are growing more difficult for many North Korean people as they pass through the spring lean season, according to a new interview with a citizen from the edge of Pyongyang, Kang Mi Soon. There has been little distribution this year, even in the capital, which has traditionally received preferential treatment, and while people are trading to try and improve matters, it’s not easy at the moment.
This is because, as a lingering after-effect of the currency redenomination, a lot of people have exhausted their reserves of cash, while prices have returned to levels commensurate with before the redenomination. In spite of relative commercial freedom in the jangmadang, the number of transactions has fallen and the class of small traders which lives day-to-day is struggling.
Kang, who hails from Gangdong County in Pyongyang, revealed this and more news from the city in an interview she gave to The Daily NK in Yanji, where she recently visited relatives,
The following is a transcript of the interview with Kang:
- What is the state of the distribution system?
In December last year and then January this year, there were eight days-worth of distribution. In February there were ten days, including the 16th (Kim Jong Il’s birthday), but in March there was no distribution. In April there were five days, including the Day of the Sun (Kim Il Sung’s birthday).
(One day of distribution ordinarily means 700g of rice or other grain for laborers, 900g for miners and workers in other strategic industries, 800g for members of state security, 400-500g for students (depending on grade) and 300g for housewives)
- Is the jangmadang operating well?
The jangmadang is working normally. However, the situation is that though the number of sellers is on the rise, people do not have money so products are not selling well.
- What things are selling the most?
Mostly, rice and corn are the mainstays of jangmadang sales. Since February of this year, there has been a drastic reduction in sales of other household items and industrial products. Though the supplies of rice and corn in the jangmadang are similar to last year, the number of buyers and the amounts being bought are both decreasing.
- What is the overall situation in terms of prices?
Overall, they have risen to a level similar to that of before the redenomination. In the case of Chinese products, prices have increased to more than before the redenomination. Socks made in China were 1,500won before, but now they are 2,000won.
- They say that the food situation during the spring lean season is hard. Can you tell us more?
Starting from last year, after the currency redenomination, the situation started getting worse, and this year it is really bad.
- Has anyone starved to death?
In Gangdong County, since the beginning of February about twenty people, including two families which committed suicide, have died of hunger.
(Gangdong County had a population of 221,539 in 2008)
- What is the overall food supply situation?
60% of people in the county are living off three meals a day of corn porridge or corn flour noodles, 30% on corn rice and the remaining 10% are eating three meals of rice a day. In March and April of last year, the number of people eating three meals of rice was 30 or 40%, and less than 5% were living on corn porridge or noodles; the rest are corn rice.
- What about other regions?
With the exception of central Pyongyang and other big cities (Sinuiju, Pyongsung, Chongjin etc), it seems to me that other rural regions are in the same situation as Gangdong. The price of rice looks likely to stay the same or rise, and so, until around June 10th when the potatoes are gathered, the numbers of starving people is likely to rise.