Electricity shortages blamed for rising price of popular North Korean comfort food

North Koreans residents enjoying corn noodles
North Koreans residents enjoying corn noodles. Image: Sogwang

The price of corn noodle soup, a popular dish among North Korea’s working class, has risen as food factories shut down due to electricity shortages.

“There’s no electricity, so corn noodle soup factories aren’t producing that much anymore,” a Pyongyang-based source told Daily NK. “The fall in supply has led to an increase in price, from 1,600 won late last month to 2,800 won more recently.”

While 1,200 North Korean won (around 15 US cents) seems relatively inexpensive, the increase is nonetheless a burden, coming in the midst of a wider economic downturn in the country. “People who rely on corn noodle soup are finding it hard to afford the price increase,” added the source.

The worsening of North Korea’s electricity problems is due to droughts, the source said. Water scarcity has led to the shutdown of hydroelectric dams, which provide around 60% of the country’s electricity.

North Korea’s hydro-meteorological service announced recently that the amount of rainfall in May – North Korea’s planting season – was only 37-46% of the annual average. Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) reported last month that “Most areas in North Korea’s western coast and interior mid-section are experiencing high-temperatures, and severe droughts are continuing.”

North Korea’s electricity troubles appear to be even more serious than last year. “This year, people just aren’t getting as much electricity,” said the source. “Farms and factories need at least a little electricity to function, but they’re not getting it.”

The worsening of North Korea’s electricity situation is impacting the production of other goods in the country. “Factories have stopped producing metal pails due to the lack of electricity,” a separate source in Pyongyang told Daily NK.

“Workers can’t do much else other than simple processes like making bricks.”

The lack of electricity has led many factory managers to find more easier goods to manufacture for their workers to do so that they and their employees can survive.

North Koreans facing the severe electricity shortages are using products that use less electricity to “beat the heat.”

“There’s no electricity, so people are using 12 volt fans that can be connected to batteries,” said the source. “It’s so hot nowadays that the fans are not much help, but they’re better than just fanning yourself.”

The fans are not very powerful, but people are finding their own ways to be “self-sufficient” in the face of electricity shortages and intense heat. In South Korea, 12-volt fans are normally only used in vehicles.

“Wealthy people have installed solar panels in their homes,” said the source. “(Now), Pyongyang residents don’t have any confidence in the party providing them with electricity.”

Jang Seul Gi is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.