Despite its priority status for electricity and supplies, residents in some parts of North Korea’s capital Pyongyang are facing severe electricity shortages recently and Pyongyangites in some areas are only getting around one hour of electricity per day in what is likely the result of continuing sanctions.
Pyongyang’s electricity woes began earlier this year, multiple sources in North Korea told Daily NK.
“The worsening electricity situation means that the whole city is dark at night. There are days when electricity is only available for one hour,” a source in Pyongyang told the Daily NK on April 14.
“Last year, the Party (Workers’ Party of Korea, WPK) spread propaganda that electricity was being produced through thermal power generation. The sanctions made coal prices cheaper, and thermal energy provided a lot of electricity. But this year the electricity situation has gotten worse.”
North Korean authorities are using coal previously exported overseas to produce electricity in the country. Last year, the Rodong Sinmun and other major state media outlets emphasized coal to help increase electricity production and trumpeted that the “electricity and coal battlelines are the frontlines for the war to protect Socialism and destroy the savage sanctions of the enemy forces (a February 27, 2018, Rodong Sinmun article).”
Even more recently, the Rodong Sinmun published an article on April 8 stating that the country’s current electricity production is based on an increase in thermal energy and coal production “must take the lead if our thermal energy plants are to operate at full capacity.”
North Korea’s electricity supply had been relatively stable up until last year thanks to the regime’s focus on coal-based electricity production. The severe winter last year, however, led to frozen hydroelectric dams and falls in electricity production. Decreases in crude oil – a requirement for thermal energy production – led to further, drastic falls in electricity production.
Pyongyang’s “one-hour-a-day” electricity situation has also created problems with the city’s water supply. “Black-colored water comes out of the faucets,” said another Pyongyang-based source. “The city’s infrastructure is already old and the lack of electricity just makes things worse. The lack of electricity has allowed polluted water in the city’s water pipes to flow from people’s faucets.”
Hotels for foreigners and the regime’s historical and memorial sites are supplied with electricity, the source noted.
The country’s poor electricity situation has further caused delays in the production of “presents” schedule to be given out for Kim Il Sung’s birthday on April 15.
“The production of sugar cookies to give to students on Kim Il Sung’s birthday should have been finished in late March,” said a South Pyongan Province-based source on April 12.
“Their production has been delayed in several areas of the country like Sukchon, Mundok and Nyongwon, so the authorities are worried…provincial Party committees, people’s committees and law enforcement agencies have sent out teams to investigate the reasons for the delay and they concluded that the lack of electricity was at fault.”
Representatives of the “Electricity Distribution Department,” which manages local electricity supplies, were interrogated by the teams and five managers were punished on April 10, the source said. The production of gifts for Kim Il Sung’s birthday helps commemorate Kim Il Sung’s achievements and is considered a very important political and symbolic activity.
The country’s poor electricity situation has naturally led to discontent and concern among ordinary North Koreans. Pyongyangites are particularly concerned about the lack of electricity.
“In the past, Pyongyang was safe from any blackouts that affected the provinces, but people in the city are now expressing concern about what’s happening,” said the initial Pyongyang-based source.
*This article was updated on April 21 to reflect that Daily NK’s sources could only confirm power shortages in some areas of North Korea’s capital.