North Korea has failed to provide rations to Pyongyang residents for the last three months, a situation that never occurred during even the height of the country’s famine period in the mid- to late 1990s, Daily NK has learned.

A source in the city told Daily NK on June 10 that the last time Pyongyang residents received rations from the state was back in March. Those rations were made up of corn – not the usual rice – and were intended to cover the months of January, February and March. Each person was allocated rations covering only 12 days per month.

Meanwhile, members of the military and communist party officials are still reportedly receiving small amounts of rations.  

North Korean authorities have – in typical fashion – pointed to “global economic stagnation caused by COVID-19” and “schemes by imperialist powers to blockade North Korea” as the reasons behind the failure to distribute rations to the ordinary population, according to the source. 

“The situation is so dire that there is even talk of a ‘second Arduous March’ among Pyongyangites,” the source told Daily NK.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s decision to sit high level officials down at a recent politburo meeting to discuss measures to improve Pyongyang’s economic situation suggests that the government is seriously examining complaints brought up by residents of the city.

The source noted that the number of households subsisting on a single meal per day or every two days is on the rise in the city. Many people are reportedly picking greens from the mountains to eat with rice.

Although local inminban (North Korea’s lowest administrative unit) in the city are involved in identifying households that have run out of food and how families with many members are faring, the authorities have yet to put forward a clear solution to the problem. 

CUTTING DOWN THE POPULATION

The source also told Daily NK that the authorities have further restricted outsiders from entering Pyongyang because of the food shortages. The authorities are blaming the lack of food rations each year on the fact there are more people entering Pyongyang than leaving it. 

“In April, the Ministry of People’s Security’s Department 8 issued an order to evict any people living in District 30 [downtown Pyongyang] and District 410 [areas located in the outskirts of the city] who do not have a residence permit or who had moved to Pyongyang after marriage,” the source told Daily NK. Department 8 is tasked with managing citizen registration. 

“This [measure] signals an intention to prevent further population growth in the city,” he added.

Under this directive, only those with Pyongyang residency in those districts will be allowed to stay; others – even if they are part of the same family as documented residents – will be forced to move outside of the city.

THE RETURN OF “GRASSHOPPER MARKETS”

The lack of state-provided rations has led many Pyongyangites to begin selling goods in local markets to survive. Unofficial markets (so-called “grasshopper markets”), which were previously rarely seen in the city, are now thriving. These markets are usually open for three hours between 4 AM and 7 AM – before people go to work – and 80% of the products sold are food items. 

There are also signs that commodity prices in markets in the city are increasing. While rice, cooking oil and pork are still being sold through local markets, prices have risen by more than 10% to 20% compared to the period before the Sino-North Korean border was closed in late January. 

The source noted that one kilogram of rice, which sold for KPW 4,350 on Jan. 1, is now being sold for KPW 4,900, as of June 8. While the price spiked to KPW 5,630 in mid-February – after the border closure – the government succeeded in stabilizing rice prices to some degree through crackdowns on price gouging and releasing supplies of rice intended for the military.

“Military rice has already been released for distribution twice this year,” the source explained, adding, “But now the military is running short on rice as well, so military reserves can no longer be used to provide rations to Pyongyang residents.”

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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Jang Seul Gi is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.