Shenyang, China — In late January, Kim Jong Il held a meeting of his highest officials, including Jang Sung Taek, Director of the Ministry of Administration of the Party, aiming to find ways to alleviate the negative side effects of November’s currency redenomination. In the meeting, the group apparently agreed to release emergency supplies of rice to those on the brink of starvation.
According to a Daily NK source, “Following the meeting, which he chaired, Kim Jong Il handed down a handwritten decree to the chief secretaries of all provinces on January 20 in which it was stated, ‘Preventing anyone from starving to death is your obligation.’”
Chief Secretaries of Provincial Committees of the Party, the recipients of the decree, handed on the threat to their subordinates, warning provincial cadres, “You will resign if anyone starves to death, because this was a direct instruction from the General.”
In the decree, the three most vulnerable provinces were named as Yangkang, South Hamkyung, and Kangwon Provinces, so the officials governing those provinces are understandably nervous. They are the provinces where most casualties occurred during the March of Tribulation, and they remain the most food insecure.
Under the decree, the Ministry of Procurement and Food Policy makes daily deliveries of 5kg of relief rice to each people’s unit and 5-15kg to each factory and enterprise. Chairpersons of people’s units and managers of factories are required to observe the circumstances of the people under their control and provide those in the greatest danger of starvation with relief rice first.
In late January, quite a number of households were reportedly facing starvation due to the aftermath of the currency redenomination; notably sky high prices coupled to strict market regulations. However, there have been no reports of starvation since relief rice deliveries began on February 1.
Alongside the chairpersons of People’s Units, cadres working for local government offices are required to cross-check whether or not starvation is occurring. In theory, they are reprimanded if they do not report the situation truthfully.
Upon hearing the news, a defector in Seoul commented, “It seems that the people will not lie still and suffer that dire situation. Kim Jong Il may have done this because he senses a crisis situation this time.”