Lack of emergency services in North Korea puts residents in danger

Unification Media Group  |  2018-04-09 14:24

"As Heard in North Korea" articles contain radio programming content broadcast by Unification Media Group [UMG], an independent multimedia consortium targeting the North Korean people.

Unification Media Group (UMG): Its time for another edition of Weekly Update, where we analyze the latest trends in North Korea. As per usual, we are joined by Special Correspondent Kang Mi Jin, who will begin by telling us about the newest social developments. 

Kang Mi Jin: Spring is in bloom and ice is melting all over the country. But this also brings some sad news, as the melting rivers and reservoirs have caused accidents in a number of regions. 

The following story comes from an inside source in Ryanggang Province. A few children were playing on a frozen river in Pochon County when the ice gave way and they fell in. Ryanggang Province is home to a number of power generators, including the Samsu Generator and the Paektu Mountain Heroic Youth Generator. Most are hydropower generators that close down for the winter. The residents have become accustomed to the frozen reservoirs attached to the generators and can usually traverse the surface without issue. But there have also been a number of incidents involving residents falling through the broken ice. Each year in March and April there are a number of drownings that occur as a result.   

UMG: In most countries, people contact the emergency services and get assistance in such cases. How about in North Korea? 

When I first arrived in South Korea, I learned about the emergency services system and thought it was a great idea. The unnecessary loss of human life is prevented by the emergency services, who come to the rescue in cases of sickness, accidents, fires, domestic violence, and more. If you tell a North Korean that such a service exists, they would have a difficult time believing you. 

Thats because in North Korea, people can hardly expect that even their family members will come to their aid during an emergency. When I was in North Korea, I lived near the Samsoo Generator Dam. The reservoir would freeze over in the winter, solid thick with about three to four meters of ice. But come springtime, it would melt and there were always drowning accidents. 

In such cases, the family of the victims would receive condolence money from their inminban group and work group. But apart from that, there was no other compensation. To this day, the countrys insurance and medical care system are not set up properly, often leaving the residents without proper care or protection.

UMG: Thats sad news. Anything else this week? 

Kang: This week, the authorities posted notices all over the country warning against anti-socialist behavior, saying it would be eradicated. A source from Ryanggang Province informed Daily NK by telephone that the authorities arrested residents from South Hamgyong who produced and sold illegal drugs. Other residents were arrested near the border region for transporting drugs.  

According to the source, residents are not reacting positively to the news, saying, Things were calm for a while and then this new campaign was set in motion, but what will the results be? The real parties to blame will step aside and those without the money and power to protect themselves will be the ones to suffer. 

The arrested residents have been placed in detention by the regional Ministry of State Security (MSS) office. The MSS is not granting visits to family members of the detainees, causing them to worry further.   

UMG: Thanks for the update. Now lets turn to the markets. Whats the latest on the North Korean economy?

As you know, the status and development of the markets gives us a powerful insight into the changing conditions of peoples lives in North Korea. We recently heard from a merchant with experience selling all over the country including Pyongyang, North Pyongan Sinuiju City, South Hamgyong Hamhung City, and Ryanggang Province Hyesan City.  This merchant delivered some interesting information.

According to him, there are an unexpectedly large variety of names for different products being sold in the market. Some of the names of the products describe their features, like the size. While I am hard pressed to think of more than three or four different varieties of household products like washing machines, refrigerators, and rice makers, there are now upwards of nine or ten models of refrigerator available in North Korea.  

In some of the jangmadang markets, there are multiple varieties of refrigerators corresponding to different sizes. Glass, for example, is sold in squares so a lot of people refer to the product as square glass rather than glass itself. Some of the products do not have a universally agreed upon name, but the residents have grown accustomed to this. 

Another source said that sometimes the residents will refer to a fridge by its appearance or its color. They do not think it unusual when a product doesnt have an official name. 

UMG: This might be difficult for people outside North Korea to understand. Its quite an unusual thing for products to be unbranded. 

Yes, the merchants and the consumers alike do not pay very much attention to the brand names. Instead, when buying a new fridge, they will say things like, I want a size 3 fridge.

Some residents who have travelled abroad will pretend to know the brand names of the items, but most people stick to basic product descriptions. The source said, Its never the case that a product wont sell well just because it doesnt have a name. 

UMG: That leads to another question. Are these household items being imported from abroad or produced domestically? 

Kang: Most are imported from China and Japan. There are also some that are produced in North Korea. But residents usually use the Chinese models. 

The number of North Korean versions is on the rise, but self-sufficiency is still a distant prospect. The Pyongyang Electronic Factory and the Taedong River Factory produce such items, but mostly focuses on electronic goods needed for the state economy. The road ahead is still quite far. 

One source informed Daily NK that Wonsan City has a lot of Japanese goods - like televisions and sewing machines - available for sale. These are brought in through the East Sea. 

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