Ordinary residents of Pyongyang have not received government rations since mid-April, Daily NK has learned. The authorities are reportedly scrambling to come up with a plan to distribute rations as discontent spreads in Pyongyang amid recent hikes in prices of gasoline, diesel fuel and even food commodities like rice and corn.

According to a Daily NK source in Pyongyang on Thursday, local authorities have not distributed rations in Pyongyang for two months since distributing 10 days worth of rations for the Day of the Sun (late North Korean leader Kim Il Sung’s birthday) on Apr. 15. Ration distribution centers in downtown Pyongyang have no food supplies, either.

After the closure of the country’s borders in January of last year due to COVID-19, Pyongyang residents were not given rations for three months from March. Since then, however, rations had been handed out in more or less regular intervals. 

Recently, however, ordinary Pyongyang residents have not received rations. Others who have not received rations include released inmates unable to restart work right away, along with police officers and soldiers transferred to Pyongyang from outside the capital city.

The food situation is so bad in the military that military cadres are receiving only enough to feed themselves.

All of this suggests that members of the country’s disadvantaged classes, and even employees of state institutions, are failing to receive rations despite residing in Pyongyang.

That being said, party cadres and members of special agencies, such as the Ministry of State Security, continue to receive rations.

Meanwhile, with the worsening of the food situation due to the country’s “spring austerity season,” grain prices are climbing in Pyongyang’s markets.

pyongyang scientists street kim jong suk
The Mirae Scientists Street in Pyongyang / Image: Ryugong website

North Korean rice prices had remained relatively stable despite the closure of the country’s borders. In fact, from March, they even began falling, with a kilogram of rice being sold in the KPW 3,000 to KPW 4,000 range. 

However, North Korean rice prices have been climbing since early May. The price of rice in Pyongyang jumped from KPW 4,100 a kilogram on June 2 to KPW 5,000 a kilogram on June 8, climbing 22% in less than a week.

Corn prices had risen continuously since the closure of the country’s borders, but remained in the KPW 2,000 to KPW 2,500 range. However, corn prices in Pyongyang recently climbed to KPW 3,000 a kilogram.

There have been instances of corn prices climbing to over KPW 3,000 a kilogram outside of Pyongyang before. Daily NK understands, however, that corn prices have never climbed so high in the capital city. 

With the lack of government rations and market prices rising, the number of destitute households with neither money nor food is reportedly climbing in Pyongyang.

There are reportedly more and more poor people who survive by taking food waste home and cooking the edible bits in a steamer.

“Since April, there have been lines of old people and children going to Mt. Taesong in Pyongyang to pick grass,” said the source. “They are picking grass to season and eat with rice because they’ve heard that grass isn’t poisonous if you pick it before the Dano holiday [June 14].”

The city’s authorities are reportedly scrambling to prepare the distribution of rations for locals. The authorities issued an order to ration distribution centers in Pyongyang on June 7 telling them to distribute 10 days worth of rations, including unglutinous rice, potatoes, corn, and rice mixed with barley.

The issuance of the order suggests that the rations will be distributed sometime in June. It is not clear, however, whether rations will continue to be distributed at regular intervals going forward. 

If local authorities distribute rations in the city soon, there is the possibility that grain prices in Pyongyang’s markets could stabilize somewhat.

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.
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Seulkee Jang is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about her articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.