A North Korean inner source from North Hamkyung province has reported that “due to ongoing crop failures exacerbated by severe drought, military officers as well as ordinary people are finding it difficult to sustain themselves”.
Officers of the Escort Command and 38th parallel MDL and their families, who previously enjoyed the best supply of rations even during difficult times, are now suffering from food shortages.
Serving officers receive minimal rations, but are restricted from making a living through other means. Their families are also subjected to collective rationing, which has been made increasingly difficult with recent reductions. However, once officers are discharged or go on indefinite vacation, they are relieved from military service obligations and may run their own business at Jangmadang. This trend is on the rise.
The source cited the cases of “an officer in his mid-40s working at Pyeongyang Escort Command construction unit who returned to his hometown after physical discharge and Kim in his late 30s working at 38th parallel MDL who returned to Moosan with his family following an indefinite vacation”.
With food shortages spreading to the military, perceptions of the army have changed substantially. Previously, military officers and their family members were highly respected for the material wealth and prestige accorded to their positions. However, in the midst of such a large scale exodus of soldiers, civilians are viewing their role in the regime more critically.
Adding to the existing tensions over scarce resources, incidents of family disputes between returnee soldiers and their relatives have skyrocketed. Ex-military personnel come back to their home towns expecting to receive help from their destitute family members, who are not in a position to share. Fortunately, however, there are several cases where these officers have received foodstuffs, oil and other daily necessities through connections to people engaged in business with China.
The source added that “military families are living in inescapably poor conditions, as like their heads of family, they can’t earn income due to being forced to live collectively. Consequently, children have to mend their old shoes over and over again and wear worn-out underwear from adults. They also must borrow casual clothes from others during occasional visits to town”.
Already suffering from shortages of daily necessities, severe drought has further deteriorated the situation of these families. Harvests of potatoes usually rationed to Pyeongyang citizens and military personnel plummeted in June and July, and prices of vegetables are experiencing a three-fold increase.
The situation is exacerbated by the need to trade what meager food there is for daily necessities. As families are restricted from running a business in return for minimal rations of rice, they are forced to sell rice to purchase clothes, vegetables and other provisions. With the military granting leave on a large scale given current conditions, starving officers, discharged soldiers and their families are an everyday sight in train stations.
The source added that ordinary North Koreans are deeply disturbed by what they are hearing and seeing, and many believe that “if personnel from the 38th parallel MDL unit are living in such conditions, other units must be suffering even more.” As many civilians worry about their sons who are enlisted in the army, criticism against the regime is mounting,. In this atmosphere, Songun or ‘Strong and Prosperous Nation’ is increasingly being seen as empty rhetoric.