Dandong, China — Munitions factory workers who had starved were found when the food crisis was becoming serious, due to strict North Korean jangmadang controls and the destruction of the harvest by floods in August, 2007.
A source from North Korea noted on the 11th, “Since April, on average two or three munitions factory workers have been dying daily, and people also say everyday, ‘Someone living somewhere has died.’”
The source said that “In a munitions factory in Kandong-gun, Pyongyang, there are those who have starved. The number of those who are going without food for a week to 10 days is increasing and the number of those who are starving to death is increasing too. The victims are all more than 55-years old.”
In the case of munitions factories’, the food distribution situation was comparatively better in previous years than in other kinds of factories thanks to the North Korean “Military-first” policy. However, the food situation has now deteriorated and the situation in the munitions factories has worsened, according to the source.
The source explained that “Ordinary workers in local cities can get by through trades in the jangmadang (markets), but the situation for the munitions factories’ workers is different. They have to go to work due to strong governmental regulation of the munitions factories. Therefore, they cannot help but rely on the food distribution system, and they don’t have any other way to survive without it.”
He added that “If someone is resourceful then they are pulling wild spring vegetables and selling them in the jangmadang. They can make enough money to buy a bundle of corn noodles, which is good for a meal of vegetable noodle soup for 4 or 5 family members.”
However, the munitions factory workers should not have any flexibility in their daily lives because they have to sign their names in the attendance book every day, according to the source.
“There are several munitions factories in Kangdong, and around 10 thousands people work there. However the number of those who cannot go to work because of hunger is increasing. When we visit their houses, they are just resting absentmindedly due to hunger,” said the source.
He said that “In my people’s unit, there would rarely be anybody who ate thin starch porridge last year, but this year the number of those who eat it as a daily meal is increasing.”
A source from Yangkang Province displayed his uneasy feeling on the 11th by saying that “Here around the border it is still okay, but I hear rumors that in inner regions there are many people starving to death. I am not sure when people will die from hunger here along the border, because there are increasing numbers of people who have not touched food for days.”
Regarding this situation, secretary general of the Network for North Korean Human Rights and Democracy Kim Yun Tae said that “We need to focus on munitions factories where workers starved. Ordinary residents who can access markets comparatively easily have mastered the tricks of surviving. From this point of view, the workers of the munitions factories are a vulnerable class in the food crisis.”
Kim emphasized that “The most worrisome thing is the destruction of crops due to the flooding last year and the crackdown on the markets by the authorities. These two elements are leading the North Korean people into suffering. If the authorities set markets free, the food situation for residents will improve considerably.”