Market downturn takes toll on North Korea’s South Pyongan Province

Chongjin Market (taken in 2017). Image: Daily NK

Activity has significantly declined in some regional markets to the extent that many local residents are suffering from financial difficulties. Levels of theft and robbery have reached new heights, creating challenges for local residents in the new year.

“There has been a fall in demand for most things except foodstuffs, grains, and some winter clothes,” said a South Pyongan Province-based source on January 3. “Merchants aren’t selling much and there are even families who are under so much debt that they have had to sell their homes and live out on the chilly streets.”

“Some families ate corn rice up until last summer, but business has not been very good lately, so they had to mortgage their homes. They had been harangued mercilessly by debt collectors until they ultimately ended up selling their homes,” she continued.

“The issue is that there are many families all over North Korea who are undergoing similar difficulties. Many are now having difficulty even finding money to borrow, so money lenders are being considered ‘heroes’ by regular people.”

According to China’s customs agency last month, levels of Sino-DPRK export from January to November 2018 reached US $191.75 million, which was 88.6% lower than the amount during the same period in the previous year. Sanctions on North Korea have cut off the country’s routes of export and significantly impacting North Koreans working in trading and mining. Even those working in restaurants and logistics, along with some other industries, are suffering financially.

“Only 10% of houses in North Korea’s farming villages have wood for a fire in the morning. Most North Koreans in rural areas just boil their food at night and aren’t able to make fires,” a separate source in South Pyongan Province reported.

“Families without heat in their homes gather together under blankets and use their body heat for warmth. Families in the breadbasket of North Korea, South Pyongan Province, are in this situation, which means that those living in other mountainous areas of the country would be suffering even more.”  

There has also been a spike in robberies in parts of the country, which has led local residents to fear for their safety and belongings.

“The kimchi for winter in five homes in Anju, South Pyongan Province, was all taken in one night recently. A total of 150-280 heads of kimchi were taken, which caused a massive uproar in the area,” an additional South Pyongan-based source said, adding that local residents suspect that soldiers mobilized in nearby road construction projects were behind the robberies, and they have taken to calling the department the soldiers are affiliated with a “band of robbers.”

“I also heard that robberies took place in Pyeongsong, Sunchon, Anju and other areas recently,” she said. “Robbers would enter rooms where people were sleeping and dose them with anesthetics before taking away their valuables, or they would threaten residents with sharp objects before stealing things. People are upset by these incidents.”

The spike in robberies from last year has led to widespread fear among local residents and people are less likely to trust one another as a result.

Daily NK reported last month that the spike in robberies in North Korea had led many to replace their existing doors with metal ones, and that some residents would not even open their doors to inminban (people’s unit, a type of neighborhood watch) leaders doing on-site inspections to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.