With the hardships of people in border regions growing ever more severe as prices skyrocket amid the government’s harsh disease control measures, an unprecedented atmosphere of unease has reportedly taken hold in the region as cases of people starving to death have emerged. 

A source in North Hamgyong Province told Daily NK on Sunday that with locals unable to engage in even small-scale smuggling because of “tightened control due to the infectious disease [COVID-19] and the 80-day battle,” along with “pestering by the Ministry of State Security and Ministry of Social Security,” prices in border villages continue to climb and “wandering families and the homeless are increasing.”

As prices in border regions of North Hamgyong Province such as Onsong and Musan soar “to a crazy degree,” people are aghast at the dumbfounding situation. Even the price of a small safety pin (for clothing) climbed nine-fold over a single day, the source said. 

With prices rising, merchants sometimes refuse to sell their stock, waiting to sell when the price climbs as high as possible. There are times when merchants do not even bother coming out to work. Accordingly, locals who are living hand-to-mouth find themselves staring at empty market stalls and returning home with empty hands.  

Locals with foreign currency such as dollars or yuan are keeping it for fear of parting with their money at giveaway rates amid the current state of affairs. This has led to a decrease in the circulation of cash in the local economy. In a chaotic situation of skyrocketing prices and fluctuating exchange rates, people feel they must possess as much foreign currency as possible because it gives them a sense of stability. 

Musan County, North Hamgyong Province residence
Musan County, North Hamgyong Province. / Image: Daily NK

“With the situation being what it is, people are spending less and tightening their belts, despite going hungry,” said the source. “There are even wretched scenes of entire families starving to death in the streets, as poor residents have no choice but to sit around hungry.” 

According to him, a family of four froze to death in front of Musan Station on Nov. 24, their bodies lying on the ground in a line. Alerted by Ministry of Social Security personnel at the station, members from a county-affiliated patrol team wrapped the bodies in cloth and took them away to an undisclosed location.

The source said that security officials at Musan Station feel like the “cries of children from cold and hunger are never-ending around the station,” and that recently in Onsong, “Six urchins who snuck aboard a train heading south to where there’s food starved to death in the train as they were returning back to the province, after being caught by security personnel.”

Neither the provincial nor county parties are taking appropriate measures despite knowing how bad the situation is. Nonetheless, party officials have been busy consoling residents, telling them that while they know “how things are,” they can do nothing. They are telling people that they should “tighten their belts a little bit more just until the end of the 80-day battle.”

The source said people who are simply waiting impatiently for prices to fall are exasperated, saying that while they thought things would improve over time. According to him, some claim that “their lives, which are gradually growing worse, are going downhill, so the end of the 80-day battle will not necessarily make things better.” 

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.
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Kim Yoo Jin is one of Daily NK's freelance journalists. Please direct any questions about his articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.