North Korean authorities have released military rice and other reserves to Pyongyangites as part of an effort to make up for several months without rations, Daily NK has learned. 

“Rations for the months up to July were recently handed out all at once,” a source in Pyongyang informed Daily NK on Tuesday. “However, there is still no word on the August allocation.” 

Daily NK previously reported that Pyongyang citizens had failed to receive any rations for three months, starting in March. 

The latest distribution covers the three months from April to July, but citizens are still waiting to receive their supply for August.

North Korea views Pyongyang as the “revolutionary capital” and continued handing down rations even during the Arduous March (the great famine during the mid- to late 1990s). Experts believe the distribution of food rations in Pyongyang has been impacted by long standing international sanctions against North Korea and the closure of the Sino-North Korean border because of COVID-19.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un directly raised the issue of “guaranteeing living stability for Pyongyang citizens” at a politburo meeting of the Workers’ Party of Korea in June, and a plenary meeting of the Cabinet later adopted a resolution on providing a high quality living environment, drinking water and vegetables to the people of Pyongyang. 

The latest distribution of rations comes approximately two months after these decisions.

However, the authorities have reportedly given differential treatment to members of the core elite class and ordinary citizens. This suggests that the government was unable to obtain a sufficient quantity of food to hand out to all residents of the city. 

“Workers at central government agencies, the Ministry of Social Security, Ministry of State Security, the Prosecutors’ Office and courts, as well as teachers at central [Pyongyang-based] universities received enough rations for 20 days, while their families were given 15 days worth of food,” the source, who requested anonymity for security reasons, told Daily NK. “The rations consisted of half rice and half corn. On the other hand, ordinary citizens were only given enough for 10-12 days, with a higher proportion of corn.”

According to the source, “[The authorities] were barely able to scrape enough together by combining military rice, capital rice [rice grown outside the city for distribution in Pyongyang] and imported rice.”

Military rice in this context refers to strategic supplies of the commodity stored in warehouses that are intended for military use. Although authorities were able to provide rations to Pyongyang citizens on this occasion by drawing on resources reserved for emergencies, it was still not enough to meet demand. 

Rodong Sinmun reported on Aug. 24 that pears produced in South Hwanghae Province had arrived in Pyongyang on Aug. 22 and 23. / Image: Rodong Sinmun

Pyongyangites are reportedly dissatisfied with the meager rations that were handed out, but are being very careful not to express this sentiment in public. 

“People are wary about complaining too much in light of a series of recent natural disasters and on-the-spot visits the Supreme Leader [Kim Jong Un] has made out of deep concern [for the people],” the source explained. “People in the capital are [so instilled with the regime ideology] that they believe the only way to avoid being banished [from the city] is to accept some level of suffering given the difficulties the country is experiencing.” 

North Korea recently raised the length of service requirement for discharged military officers to obtain Pyongyang citizenship from 30 to 35 years, and some citizens are being exiled from the city under the pretext of increasing the population of the country’s rural areas. Through these measures, the authorities are attempting to reduce the population of the capital because they are unable to provide enough food.

In this scenario, Pyongyangites are biting their tongue out of fear of being exiled if they engage in public criticism. 

“[Living] in the capital is still better than in other regions, which haven’t received rations in several decades, so people [in Pyongyang] have to continuously remind themselves of where they are,” the source said. “The city’s residents believe they need to be even more careful about their words and actions in [difficult] situations like this.”

The food situation in Pyongyang is continuing to get worse, according to the source. “At first, people in non-central districts [of the city] were suffering and starving,” he said. “But now I’m hearing a lot of stories like this from those in the city’s central districts, too.” 

Some Pyongyangites in the city’s central districts are subsisting on one ear of fresh corn per meal, and some people think they might have to set up their own “vegetable plots in mountains or near rivers near the city” to survive, the source added.

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