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North Korea Reduces School Hours to Mobilize Students For Drought Measures

A month of government efforts to irrigate state farms had fallen short and crops are experiencing drought damage

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North Korean farm workers
North Korean farm workers tend to a field on the outskirts of the capital Pyongyang, July 12, 2016. RFA
  • To better manage irrigation of the crops, educational institutions had been assigned an equal number of collective farms to attend to
  • Authorities require that male and female citizens mobilize to provide additional farming manpower during the spring planting season and in early summer when rice is grown
  • In January, North Korean authorities imposed limits on the operating hours of local markets nationwide to encourage residents to go the fields and collect manure to use as fertilizer

July 08, 2017: North Korea’s government has reduced school hours in a bid to mobilize students to combat a severe drought affecting the country’s farms, according to sources, who say the public is frustrated that Kim Jong Un’s regime is conducting missile tests instead of devoting state resources to the problem.

The sources from two provinces in northern North Korea, near the border with China, told RFA’s Korean Service this week that all students in high school or above are required to water crops for hours in the morning before classes, which now begin later in the day, amid a lack of precipitation.

One source from Yanggang province, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that a month of government efforts to irrigate state farms had fallen short and crops are experiencing drought damage, brought on in part by one of the worst rainfall shortages in recent years.

ALSO READ: Unpaid Farm Work: Wealthy People in North Korea Bribe their Way Out of Mandatory Farming Mobilization

“Extensive mobilization for watering crops began on May 10, but we have not had any [substantial] rain for more than a month,” he said.

“We had a couple of showers in Yanggang but it was not enough to ease the drought.”

The source said that parts of neighboring North Hamgyong province “didn’t have a single drop of rain” during the same period and that if the weather did not cooperate soon, “no farm produced crops can be expected.”

“We are in a fight against drought, but many people who visited the ‘Southern Area’ [the inland regions of Hwanghae and Kangdon provinces] said rice harvesting there is good,” he said.

“[For our region,] damage to corn, soybeans, and potatoes is serious, with damage to corn being most severe.”

A second source from neighboring Chagang province, who also asked not to be named, told RFA that farms in several parts of his region were also failing due to the drought.

“From Manpo city [on the Yalu River across from China] to Chongpo village [about 16 kilometers northeast of Kanggye city], the corn stalks are completely dried out and the stems are only barely surviving at the collective farms,” he said.

“Chunggang county [150 kilometers north of Manpo along the Yalu] is experiencing even more severe drought damage than Manpo, since the county’s main crop is corn.”

Students mobilized

To better manage irrigation of the crops, the source said, educational institutions had been assigned an equal number of collective farms to attend to.

“High school and college students have been mobilized for watering crops from 5:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. each day, and their classes now begin from 11:00 a.m.,” he said.

But he added that the drought “cannot be fought with simple manpower,” as merely using water containers to irrigate the crops is ineffective.

Instead, water pumps are needed to deliver water to farms from nearby rivers, the source said, while fire trucks should be deployed to transport water to farms located too far from water sources.

“Meanwhile, Kim Jung Un has fired a number of missiles while the people were mobilized and physically suffered to water the crops,” he said, referring to at least five confirmed missile tests conducted by the regime between May 13 and June 23.

“The people are resentful of his actions and have expressed their frustrations by saying, ‘If there is money to fire missiles, it could have been used to combat more than ten droughts,’” the source said.

Earlier this month, sources told RFA that wealthy North Koreans had been bribing doctors to issue false medical evaluations that exempt them from compulsory labor as part of the country’s annual mobilization of its citizens to do unpaid farm work.

Authorities require that male and female citizens mobilize to provide additional farming manpower during the spring planting season and in early summer when rice is grown, but it was unclear if the bribes of doctors had extended to measures requiring students to water crops amid the drought.

In January, North Korean authorities imposed limits on the operating hours of local markets nationwide to encourage residents to go the fields and collect manure to use as fertilizer in light of a shortage of chemical fertilizer.

The move caused great discontent among locals, many of whom shop for food and other necessities during the day. (RFA)

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Reports on Illegal Activity in Nation Will Be Rewarded By North Korea’s Government

North Korea routinely uses its people to keep each other in line. The local government assigns every citizen to an inminban (neighborhood watch unit), in which members are responsible for monitoring each other for any sign of political disobedience or criminal acts.

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Civil Servants
A rally for civil servants from the North Korean Ministry of People's Security. RFA

North Korea’s government has announced it will offer rewards for reports on illegal activity in an effort to more closely monitor its citizens. But rather than motivating the people to snitch on each other, many are resentful of the idea, sources told RFA’s Korean Service.

“The provincial police department had a meeting on Mar. 24 where they announced that they would start paying rewards to those who report illegal phone users, those who complain about the state or its government, smugglers and drug users,” said a source from Ryanggang province in an interview with RFA’s Korean Service on Saturday.

“People who want to get the rewards can file reports and [the government can then] eliminate people filled with discontent,” the source said.

“The results of that meeting were delivered to the public through police stations in each city, county and district,” the source said, adding, “Rewards can range from 50,000 to 300,000 North Korean Won (about $6 to $7).”

U.S.
“The government is aware of resentment of how [Kim Jong Un] has handled [the economy], so the Central Committee plans to use the reward system to eliminate those people who are openly dissatisfied with the state,” the source said. VOA
The source indicated that this idea had been tried in the past but was not very popular.

“It did not work out well. The state can’t even guarantee basic living conditions for the people, and the people can’t make their own living without breaking the law, so why would anyone want to report on anyone else?” said the source.

The source said that the rewards are part of a government effort to discourage resentment over the current economic conditions brought on by U.S. and U.N. sanctions, which has made life difficult for everyone.

The sanctions are aimed at depriving the regime of resources it could use to support its nuclear and missile programs.

“The government is aware of resentment of how [Kim Jong Un] has handled [the economy], so the Central Committee plans to use the reward system to eliminate those people who are openly dissatisfied with the state,” the source said.

A second source, from North Hamgyong province, agreed that the reward system was a government ploy to discourage dissent.

“Since the [failure in] the recent summit with the U.S. in Vietnam and the parliamentary election [where voters could choose only one candidate], the people are really disillusioned, and are expressing their thoughts publicly,” the source said.

“[That’s why] they came out with the reward system to maintain social order and to keep the complainers quiet ahead of the Day of the Sun, [a national holiday that falls on the birthday of North Korea’s founding father Kim Il Sung, on Apr 15,]” said the source.

The source said that some believe the implementation of this reward system indicates internal friction within the regime.

“Some residents think there is a security risk or a serious internal situation going on,” the source said. “They usually start giving out these kind of rewards when there’s an important national matter.”

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The source said that the rewards are part of a government effort to discourage resentment over the current economic conditions brought on by U.S. and U.N. sanctions, which has made life difficult for everyone. Pixabay

“It can only mean there’s increased anxiety here,” the source said.

North Korea routinely uses its people to keep each other in line. The local government assigns every citizen to an inminban (neighborhood watch unit), in which members are responsible for monitoring each other for any sign of political disobedience or criminal acts.

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On top of that, each citizen must meet weekly for sessions known as “saenghwal chonghwa,” a group activity in which each citizen must confess individual shortcomings, then hear additional criticism from peers.

An RFA report from mid-March described how saenghwal chonghwa was becoming more strict and invasive following the failed summit with the U.S. (RFA)