A growing number of households in South Pyongan Province are suffering from food shortages due to the prolonged closure of the Sino-North Korean border, Daily NK has learned.
In a telephone conversation with Daily NK on Wednesday, a source in the province said that since the beginning of June, a growing number of people have “sold their homes and are roaming around” due to financial difficulties. “They had hoped the border closure would be lifted in May, but with the border closure continuing, they could no longer endure [such dire circumstances].”
Many North Korean merchants who deal in imported goods from China borrow money to buy their wares and repay their creditors later with the proceeds from their sales. However, receiving neither goods nor payments since the authorities suddenly closed the border in January of last year, merchants are reportedly unable to repay the money they have borrowed and are constantly under pressure to repay their debts.
For example, a wholesaler who dealt in Chinese-made goods was reportedly shot and killed by a smuggler early this year after the two argued about a monetary advance.
According to the source, the merchant — who sold imported soybean oil in South Pyongan Province — had recently sold his home and was living on the streets with his family due to debt.
The source noted that since the start of the spring season, more and more families in financial straits have been going homeless, even if they were able to survive on corn gruel at the start of the year. They are unable to borrow money, and have nothing of value to sell even if they try to acquire rice or corn on credit. That is why an increasing number of people are living on the streets after selling their homes.
Meanwhile, rice prices in North Korea have been climbing since early last month. Though the country’s rice prices had remained relatively stable even after authorities closed the border last year, they have skyrocketed over 20% since the end of last month. As of June 8, a kilogram of rice was selling at KPW 5,000 in Pyongyang.
Corn prices, too, are continuously climbing, recently hitting KPW 3,000 a kilogram in Pyongyang.
The chronic food shortages and rising market prices are hitting many North Korean farmers hard. As a result, a growing number of rural families are apparently suffering from food shortages, too.
The source told Daily NK that the number of food-short households in the agricultural regions of South Pyongan Province (including Gaechon, Sinyang County, and Yangdok County) have noticeably increased. Less than 30% of local households are reportedly having proper meals.
“A growing number of people are hitting their breaking point, be it in the city or the country,” said the source. “There is even talk that if the border remains closed, the whole country will face even tougher times.”