A Glimpse of North Korea

A U.N. agency releases census details that show the country is dying younger.
2010-02-23
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North Korean children sit inside a government-run nursery in North Korea's South Pyongan province, July 20, 2005.
North Korean children sit inside a government-run nursery in North Korea's South Pyongan province, July 20, 2005.
AFP

SEOUL—North Koreans are getting older and their health is declining, according to the first census conducted in the tightly closed country in 17 years.

Its armed forces have also shrunk below their storied “million man” status, with possibly fewer than 700,000 people under arms, the census—conducted in 2008 for the first time since 1993—shows.

North Korea previously released data showing its population rising to 24 million from 21.2 million in 1993, or just under 1 percent, although the country in believed to have lost as many as 2 million people to starvation since the mid-1990s.

The U.N. Population Fund, which helped North Korea conduct the census and sent five teams of observers to monitor it, has now released more detailed data from the survey.

Infant mortality rose from 14.1 to 19.3 per 1,000 live births, and the maternal mortality rate grew 30 percent from 54 to 77 deaths per 100,000 live births. As a result, overall life expectancy declined by 3.4 years to 69.3, with women living slightly longer, as they do in other countries.

A report by the U.N. World Food Programme last September said one-third of the country's women and children under five are malnourished.

Most cook with wood, coal

The census also says that the North Korean population comprises fewer children and more middle-aged people than in 1993, and that people generally aren't as healthy as they were.

With 5.9 million households, most homes measure 50 to 75 square meters in size (540 to 800 square feet). Some 85 percent of homes have access to running water and 55 percent have access to a flush toilet. Others use pit latrines or shared public toilets.

The military or government employs 699,000 people—suggesting that Pyongyang’s fabled million-man army is smaller than the government would like the world to know.

Agriculture, fishing, and forestry are the North's dominant industries, followed by manufacturing. The agricultural workforce is made up of 1.9 million women and 1.5 million men.

Education, machinery manufacturing, textiles, and coal-mining are the next largest employers, in that order, while some 40,000 people work in computers, electronics, or optical-product manufacturing.

Men still possess a comparative advantage, the census shows. One in every seven men over 16 had finished a university education, while only one in 12 women enjoyed the same advantage. Women are 14 times more likely to work in sales and service.

Twenty-one percent of North Koreans live in apartments or flats, with only a tiny percentage using electricity for cooking or heating. Most reported using wood or coal.

Original reporting by Ahreum Jung for Radio Free Asia's Korean service. Acting Korean service director: Bong Park. Written in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.


CH. 1: MANDARIN | CANTONESE

CH. 2: VIETNAMESE | BURMESE | KOREAN

CH. 3: KHMER | LAO | UYGHUR

CH. 4: TIBETAN

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