Capitalist traits in North Korea continue to penetrate
various aspects of people’s daily lives. There is now a pizza restaurant found
outside of Pyongyang, and another in Suncheon, South Pyongan Province, taxi
services have emerged, and pricey private tutoring is on the rise. Adding to
this trend is news of drinking water being sold in markets.
A source from South Pyongan Province reported to Daily NK on
September 29th, “Just up until a few years ago, here [in the North] people
would say in capitalist countries you even have to buy your own water, but that
has now become a reality for North Koreans as well, adding that when there is a
demand, supply naturally follows.
“There is a new market for spring water that is picking up,”
she went on. “Men who don’t have money to open a business are selling spring
water to save seed money for the future.”
North Korea’s derelict water supply system lacks adequate
filtering, rendering it deficient in providing drinking water. This is why
Party cadres and the donju [the new affluent middle class] buy drinking water,
while most others drink from the river or wells. Inminban [people’s unit] or
individuals often use underground water by digging 7 to 12 meters under the
surface and installing pumps.
However, as people living nearby public restrooms, or areas
with contaminated underground water suffer from enteritis, an inflammation of
the small intestine brought on by ingesting food or water contaminated with
bacteria, and other illnesses, the dangers of the groundwater have been exposed.
The North produces its own spring water called “Sindeok
Saemmul,” but it is monopolized by Chosun Neungnado Trade Company and exported
to Southeast Asian countries without ever entering circulation in local
markets. Those who work at foreign-currency earning enterprises, trading
companies, and the donju import drinking water from China.
One 0.5-liter bottle from China costs roughly 0.8 RMB or
1,000 KPW at Sinuiju Market and sells for 1 RMB at Pyongsong Market. This trend
has spawned a new group of merchants who fetch spring water from the mountains
to put out for sale.
“Clever people have already figured out that drinking water
can make them money and are selling it now,” the source said. “These
merchants have been advertising their water as coming from deep in the
mountains, incomparable to that from China, and having medicinal qualities.”
According to the source, there has been spring water in
Chonsongri, Eunsan County, in South Pyongan Province that has been referred to
as medicinal water since the nation was under Japanese colonial rule. It was
also known as “Emperor spring water” among the locals, as the Japanese Emperor
was the only person allowed to drink from the precious source.
Thanks to this longstanding belief, demand for bottled water
from China has dwindled, while Chonsong spring water has seen its sales jump.
As a result, the source reported waits of a 10-hour minimum to draw this spring
water in Chonsong.
“It is roughly 40 km from Chonsong to Pyongsong Market, and
20 km to Suncheon Market,” she explained, adding, “This is why men who do not
have enough money to start their own business have been working exhaustively to
make that seed money and are reaping in good profits.”
Chonsong spring water is 600 KPW for 1 liter, but is sold in
containers similar to oil cans in 5-liter quantities for 3,000 KPW.
Compared to bottled water from China, which is 1,300 KPW for half a liter, it
is a quarter the price.
The source asserted that water from China is something only
the donju can afford, but spring water from Chonsong is affordable for even
those who get by on a daily basis by selling goods at the market, explaining
why roughly 30 percent of residents there buy spring water.
“Water merchants are usually men, and they travel 40 km a
day, transporting 100 to 150 kg of water,” she said. “The market is expected to
grow, because people who have tried Chonsong spring water at least once, stop
drinking the water from China.”
Many are already concerned about their role in the
burgeoning industry, “With the growing market for drinking water, people are
worried that powerful foreign currency earning companies will take over this
field as well,” she concluded.