North Korea: Starving in Silence - Printable Version
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North Korea: Starving in Silence - hilly7 - 09-15-2009 04:02 AM
Via: Globe and Mail:
In a country where citizens are subjected to ceaseless propaganda telling them that they live in a socialist paradise, it’s the silence that tells the other side of the story.
You can stand in the middle of some Pyongyang streets, even at rush hour, and hear only the occasional sound of an automobile engine because private cars are so rare. The quiet lingers, too, in the so-called industrial towns, their skylines dominated by smokestacks that never seem to be in use.
The silence is the sound of an economy in collapse, and nowhere is it more noticeable than in the countryside beyond the showcase capital city. Here, farmers tend their crops with hoes, shovels and their bare hands while the occasional piece of rusting farm equipment – rendered useless by a fuel shortage – sits idle amid the vast fields of rice and corn.
Despite having more arable land per capita than the United Kingdom or Belgium, North Korea is chronically, desperately short of food, and spiralling downward into its worst crisis in a decade.
“There are no farm animals, virtually no machinery. They’re not practising anything like crop rotation,” said Paul French, author of North Korea: The Paranoid Peninsula. “You know there’s a problem when people have eaten all the livestock.”
A fertilizer shortage has also taken a toll on crop yields, and has become even more acute since South Korea stopped sending annual aid of 300,000 tonnes a year, citing concerns that the chemicals were being redirected for military purposes. North Korea’s own fertilizer output is estimated at less than 500,000 tonnes a year, about a third of the 1.5 million tonnes the country needs for use on its grain farms, according to the Unification Ministry in Seoul.
Some observers say the root of the problem is Pyongyang’s stubborn insistence on the same collective-farm model that proved a catastrophic failure in China, the Soviet Union and other socialist states.
While travelling in North Korea, Mr. French said, he noticed that private plots outside some North Korean homes were “flourishing” compared with the large collective farms. “If you give people their own land, they take care of it and make use of it as much as possible,” he said.