Are Conditions in North Korea Deteriorating?
December 2, 2020 Topic: Public Health Region: Asia Blog Brand: Korea Watch Tags: North KoreaCommunismStarvationSanctionsHypothermia

Are Conditions in North Korea Deteriorating?

Famine, mismanagement, a crack down on smuggling, and international sanctions are all taking their toll.

Conditions have gotten so bad in parts of North Korea, due to rising prices and government crackdowns on coronavirus, that a homeless family of four reportedly froze to death in front of Musan Station in N. Hamgyong Province.

That’s according to a report published this week by Daily NK, which also stated that “an unprecedented atmosphere of unease has reportedly taken hold in the region.” These include massive inflation, coinciding with the North Korea campaign’s “80-Day Battle” propaganda campaign.

The story, which cited a source in the providence, stated that conditions have deteriorated in the province, due to tightened control due to the pandemic, as well as “pestering by the Ministry of State Security and Ministry of Social Security,” which have prevented the type of smuggling that often makes economic activity and survival in the region possible.

In addition, those with foreign currency are hoarding it, leading to much less cash circulating in the local economy.

North Korea, per an AP story in mid-November, has been waging a labor campaign described as “The 80-Day Battle” since October, ahead of the ruling party congress that’s set for January. The campaign entails increased work in all areas of the country, in order to fill higher-than-usual quotas.

But indications are that the campaign has backfired, at least in North Hamgyong Providence.

“With the situation being what it is, people are spending less and tightening their belts, despite going hungry,” Daily NK’s source said. “There are even wretched scenes of entire families starving to death in the streets, as poor residents have no choice but to sit around hungry.”

This was what led to the death of the family of four at Musan Station, which reportedly happened on November 24. Upon learning of the deaths, per the report, a patrol team arrived and took the bodies to an undisclosed location. The report also said that the cries of children have become ever-present around that station.

North Hamgyong Province is North Korea’s northernmost province, bordered by China in the North and West and the Sea of Japan to the East.

Another report earlier this week stated that North Korea’s First Corps is expected to be far below its usual capacity when training begins this month. Due to large incidences of “malnutrition, desertions, and quarantines related to COVID-19,” some units are expected to only operate at around 60 percent capacity for the months-long training exercises. Those numbers have been compared to those during the 1990s famine known as “The Arduous March.” The regime has also been taking steps to catch and punish deserters.

Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.

Image: Reuters.