North Korea is bracing for a severe salt shortage following recent floods and typhoons which destroyed production facilities in the west, according to sources.
Salt prices have already increased drastically and will only continue to rise as North Koreans prepare for the onset of winter, the sources told RFA’s Korean service.
“The price of salt is extremely high these days,” said a source from Yanggang province along North Korea’s border with China.
“The situation right now is not that serious, but it will become worse when people start to make kimchi” ahead of winter as a source of sustenance.
North Koreans, who suffer from chronic food shortages, traditionally prepare stores of spicy pickled vegetables called “kimchi” ahead of the cold season.
In addition to being a preservative, salt serves as an important source of iodine essential to the human diet. Iodine deficiency can lead to mental retardation, stunted growth, and goiters.
The Yanggang source said that most of the salt pans located in western North Korea were battered by heavy rains during the summer and by floods that washed drying salt beds out to sea.
He said that the salt had been produced and stored before the summer.
Some of the supplies were damaged during transportation to other parts of the country.
News of the damaged salt facilities in western North Korea drove prices up around the country to 4,000 won (U.S. $1.30) per kilogram at present from 1,800 won (U.S. $0.60) in August, the source said, sparking fears among those who are forced to rely on kimchi in the winter months.
According to official conversion rates, 130 won should fetch one U.S. dollar, but the market rate requires about 3,000 won to the dollar.
Soldiers, laborers hit
Another source in North Hamgyong province, also along the country’s northern border, reported that some people smuggled salt from China to make up for the shortage.
But the source said that soldiers and mobilized laborers were among the worst hit by the shortage.
Due to the severity of the salt shortage in the army and amongst labor units, there have been cases of soldiers and workers deserting to seek salt in their home provinces, the source said. Border guards also extort salt from people smuggling it into the country.
The source said he believes that the regime has stocked salt reserves for the army, but that a damaged railway system has prevented the soldiers from getting it.
He said that according to reports, some regular army soldiers had not taken salt in a month.
“Soldiers in Cheongjin city, in North Hamgyong province, drink boiled seawater to get their intake of salt,” he said.
“Other soldiers who are working on construction of the Eorangcheon power plant can take a month-long vacation if they bring a bag of salt.”
Hundreds of thousands of North Koreans died during a famine in the 1990s, and the nation has faced major food shortages owing to a number of severe floods and droughts since then.
The U.N. said last autumn that some three million people would require food aid in North Korea this year, even before floods devastated the country this summer.
It said in a recent report that more than one-quarter of the country’s 24 million population is “chronic poor” and that malnutrition has left one-third of its children stunted.
Reported by Sung Hui Moon for RFA’s Korean service. Translated by Juhyeon Park. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.