Reports of suicides in North Korea are on the rise as citizens struggle to deal with recent price fluctuations in the markets. Many believe the market instability has been caused by recently strengthened international sanctions and the poor grain harvest this fall.
A source in Ryanggang Province informed Daily NK on October 22 that “an incident occurred in the Samsu area involving a woman in her 50s, who apparently committed suicide over 30 kg of corn. The woman was a small-time merchant who had fallen upon hard times and had to borrow the corn from a loan shark, but when she could not pay back what she owed, she took her own life.”
“Since she borrowed 30 kg in summer, she has to pay back 60 kg in fall. Those are the terms. But terrible business conditions and the poor harvest meant she was not able to pay it back. She became stressed by the daily visits by men harassing her about the debt,” she added.
“People are asking, ‘Why did she have to die? A woman who worked so hard, who I know could have eventually paid her debts and found happier days,'” the source added. “It has really hit people hard, especially since her child’s wedding is set for next month (November).”
According to the source, drought this past spring has resulted in a poor fall harvest, and residents must grapple with the resulting business losses and reduced cash flow in the markets. As people have begun borrowing in order to survive the economic downturn, instances of conflicts and even fights between creditors and debtors have increased.
In the wake of all of this, there is a growing concern over the rise of loan sharking and violent debt collectors, with many referring to the latest suicide incident as a needless ‘exchange of life for just 30 kg of corn’.
There are reports of another similar incident in the village of Hamnam, South Hamgyong Province, where one person allegedly committed suicide after deciding they could no longer handle the difficulties of life.
“The man had recently been ‘ordered to mobilize with the Samjiyon Shock Troops’ and had set out for the long journey across the country. But his body was found on the mountainside by others who had gone to gather firewood. Apparently he had requested one final proper meal to enjoy before leaving his family, citing the harsh conditions that lay ahead,” a source in South Hamgyong Province said.
“The man had been overheard saying, ‘I don’t want to live anymore, constantly struggling to find food and survive.’ People in the area are asking, ‘Could such incidents be avoided if the government cared even a little bit about addressing these issues?'” the source added.
Similar incidents are likely to continue as the effects of the poor harvest and reduced market activity become more pronounced in the coming months.