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.
“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.”
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.
Reported by Sunghui Moon for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.