As the month of August began, North Korea saw a sudden jump in its rice costs. While 1kg of rice reached a peak of 1,960won (around US$6.03) in Shinuiju, entering the second week of August, prices seemed to have stabilized around the 1,500won marker.
Due to the damages incurred from the recent flooding in North Korea, the cost of rice was something expected. In the second week of August, the DailyNK reported on the flood situation and the consequent price fluctuations. The following report will indicate the damages from the flood and food situation as well as the course of rice costs.
We discovered from a telephone conversation with Ahn Geum Soon (pseudyonm, 37) on the 10th, a trader who sells clothes in Shinuiju, North Pyongan that the cost of rice had suddenly escalated to 1,900won per kilo dropping back to 1,500won within a 10 day period.
Ahn said, “Even people who trade secretly in private or at Jangmadang (markets) are finding it hard to obtain rice as there simply isn’t enough going around” and informed, “There are some people who are already stocking up on rice as rumors suggest that the costs will go up a little more. These people are the ones to raise the prices.”
Regarding the cause in escalating rice costs, Ahn said, “I’m not sure. According to rumors, people with money are the ones hoarding the rice, but no one is really sure of the reason.”
“Some people are going through tough times with the sudden rise in rice costs but no one is dying of starvation. People who can’t afford rice eat corn. Even if the cost of corn rises, its only 500won” said Ahn and added, “Nonetheless, there are the occasional beggars living in the country and the city who die of hunger, but this is no different to the past.”
Kim Il Yong (pseudonym, 36) who lives in Taecheon, North Pyongan informed a reporter on the 11th, “Currently, the cost of rice is about 1,500won per kilo. There was a great difference in prices within a period of 10 days.”
Kim responded, “Some say that the costs are rising as South Korea and other foreign countries are not supporting us with rice, while others say that that prices are rising as there is not enough rice going around. I’m not sure what is going on.”
He continued, “There are rumors that rice prices will reach 2,000won. Nevertheless, there won’t be any cases where people die of hunger. Like we will reach that stage when potatoes have been picked and are being sold at Jangmadang and the corn harvest has begun.”
Kim who has relatives living in the Hamheung said in response to the claim by a South Korean support organization that 300 people have died of starvation, “Hamheung is comparatively a large city. Rumors would quickly spread if people were dying of starvation. 300 people can’t be dying of starvation.” He said, “My sister in-laws younger brother went to Hamheung 3 days ago. He said he hadn’t heard of any rumors of people dying of hunger.”
Another source in North Korea said in a conversation with a reporter on the 11th, “Up to a month ago, rice cost 850won per kilo” and commented, “There are a lot of coal mines at Dukcheon. It is known as a region where you can make money. Rations are distributed by the employer to the people who work at the mines and so it’s not so hard for them.”
Then he added, “It was a little tough in June as the employers stopped distributing rations for a while.”