There have been grievances reported amongst residents of provincial areas that are part of North Korea’s renovation efforts to become a “strong and prosperous state” by 2012.
North Korean authorities announced a plan last September to reconstruct old houses in regional cities. However, a lack of construction materials and electricity has pushed back the start date. After the currency redenomination last November, rumors amongst residents suggest that construction could end before a single plough dug into the ground.
Construction efforts were revitalized in April this year as authorities set specific targets for city construction teams and state owned enterprises to build large residential buildings holding ten to thirty households. October 10 was set as the deadline before which all construction was to be complete, the same day as the founding date of the Chosun Worker’s Party.
However without sufficient resources, including labor, it remains to be seen whether the project will finish. Furthermore, large and small accidents have raised some concerns amongst local populace.
On July 12 a three-story brick building at Sariwon, North Hwanghae Province, collapsed in the middle of construction. Seven workers were injured by the accident. A source cited the mixing of excessively brackish sand with cement was the reason behind the collapse.
North Korea is currently suffering from a lack of cement. Not only is supply from the authorities non-existent but following the construction of 100,000 houses in Pyongyang, the market no longer has any consistent supply. With prices rising, cement is being smuggled from regional construction sites and sold in markets. This is one another key reason for the shoddy construction.
A source stated that, “Construction workers pretend to work,” because there is no payroll to even feed them. This creates serious obstacles for workers, forcefully mobilized for construction, who cannot provide for their families.
The source added, “In a situation where selling on the jangmadang is a prerequisite to earning a living, you can only suffer losses if you are chosen to work on construction sites.”
Accidents arising from a lack of safety precautions are also a concern. A source said, “Many people that are brought to work become ill due to dust particles. When this is ignored, they end up coughing blood and taken to hospital.” With a chronic scarcity of medicine there is no cure for those suffering from respiratory illnesses.
Basic safety is also not being met due to lose security at construction sites leading to a passer-by being struck by a falling brick and injured.
Local residents have voiced their discontent regarding prolonged construction projects due to their relocation to neighboring households since April. At the time, North Korean authorities had promised to assign new houses to both the residents who were forced to move and the neighbors who had accommodated them but with no end of construction in sight, tensions between families are rising to the point where the People’s Safety Ministry has to intervene. The winter season will only add to the collective anxiety.
To make matters worse, residents living near construction sites must pay money for project support. Members of the people’s unit must always have 100 to 500 won on hand for project funding.
Local residents are increasingly worn out by the construction that has spanned for over twelve months, since last year’s 150-day Battle. Their suffering has increased due to the unsuccessful nationwide economic and social plan, implemented from April to September of last year by North Korean authorities to revive the failing and chaotic economy.