North Korean authorities supplied rice to each household in Hyesan earlier this month amid the city’s lockdown for 20 days following an incident involving border guards engaging in smuggling with Chinese contacts, Daily NK has learned.

The government’s supply of the food seems to be part of an effort to calm fears of food shortages among local residents, who are unable to leave their homes because of the lock down.

“A total of 10 kilograms of rice was supplied to each household on Nov. 6 by the Hyesan municipal party committee,” a source in Yanggang Province told Daily NK earlier today on condition of anonymity. “The food supply wasn’t free because each household had to pay KPW 3,700 per kilogram they received.”

Rice prices in Hyesan were just KPW 4,800 per kilogram as of Oct. 21, but they skyrocketed to KPW 10,000 per kilogram after the lock down order was handed down earlier this month.

That city authorities sold the rice to local residents at a price slightly less than the going market price (before the lock down) provides further evidence of the government’s shortage of funds.

Street market in Hyesan, Ryanggang Province rice sellers dollar rate
In this undated photograph, North Koreans are seen peddling goods at a street market in Hyesan, Yanggang Province / Image: Daily NK

According to the source, each inminban (North Korea’s lowest administrative unit) in the city distributed an extra two kilograms of rice to households suffering the most from the lock down. He noted, however, that even this extra amount of rice was too little to give those families much help.

While the supply of rice a four-person family needs depends on their ages and what kind of work they do – and assuming they consume 450 grams per day – a four-person family will require at least 36 kilograms of grains over a 20-day period to survive. The latest supply of rice from the government, however, is 10 to 12 kilograms less than such a family would need.

“Families with a lot of mouths to feed, or those households that were unable to prepare enough food to eat before the lock down, may face starvation,” the source warned, adding, “[The government’s] supply of a few kilograms of rice will not calm the increasing discontent people feel.”

According to him, the lock down of Hyesan is yet another set of troubling circumstances to hit local residents, who have already been facing constraints due to the closure of the Sino-North Korean border.

“People in the city are worried that life will gradually get even worse,” he said.

He further noted that Hyesan authorities refused to accept payments for the rice in Chinese yuan or US dollars. This is further evidence of the contraction of the country’s foreign currency market, and may reflect the concern held by the authorities that accepting yuan or dollars would be seen as another attempt to “steal foreign currency” from the people.

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Lee Chae Un is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. She can be reached at