Typhoon Lingling
North Korean farmers in South Hwanghae Province cleaning up a damaged farm field after Typhoon Lingling in 2019. (Rodong Sinmun)

Around 20 South Hwanghae Province residents have recently died due to starvation, Daily NK has learned. The lockdowns that the North Korean government has imposed around the country as part of its fight against COVID-19 have proved tragic for those unable to find food.

“People have been dying recently in Sinwon County and other rural areas, and most of those deaths are due to starvation,” a source in South Hwanghae Province told Daily NK on Tuesday.

According to the source, most farming families in the province face food shortages. After last year’s crops were ruined by drought and floods, many families only received a couple months’ worth of food rations.

Given these circumstances, more and more people have been starving to death in families that failed to lay aside food reserves before the country was locked down following the recent outbreak of COVID-19, the source said. 

In some rural parts of Sinwon and Paechon counties, there have been bans on movement and markets have been shut down. These measures have led to the starvation deaths of more than 20 local residents, the source said. 

Most of the dead had long depended on wild greens and porridge made of grass during lean times in the spring, but lockdowns kept them from foraging for mountain greens. They could do little but endure the gnawing hunger at home until death came, the source said.

According to the source, farm workers in Paechon County have been struggling to make it through each day as rations from last year run out, and many of them are too famished to work on the farm, despite this being the busy season.

“I keep hearing about people who have collapsed or starved to death since the government lockdown. But instead of taking any meaningful measures, officials have been sitting on their hands and simply tinkering with the intensity of the lockdowns,” the source said.

“People living along the [China-North Korea] border can get by on money sent from South Korea or China. But since the people of [South] Hwanghae Province depend on farming for their livelihoods, there’s basically no way out of the current dilemma unless the government resolves the food shortages,” he added.

Translated by David Carruth. Edited by Robert Lauler.

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Kim Chae Hwan is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. He can be contacted at dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.