Subfreezing temperatures in North Korea’s northern provinces this month have caused water main pipes to freeze and burst, cutting off tap water supplies to local residents, sources inside the country said.
“As the temperature suddenly dipped below minus-30 degrees Celsius (minus-22 degrees Fahrenheit), the water pipes froze and burst in many parts of Chongjin city,” a source in North Hamgyong province said.
Chongjin is the capital of the province and North Korea’s third-largest city.
“As a result, the tap water supplied by authorities for one hour in the morning and afternoon has been completely cut off, causing a great deal of frustration among residents,” he said.
Most of the city’s inhabitants did not expect to experience usual tap water shortages this winter, because the weather had been unusually warm up to the second week of January, he said.
But the cold wave that began on Jan. 10 and caused water mains to freeze and burst has meant that residents have hardly had any access to tap water all day long, according to the source.
Residents of South Hamgyong province are experiencing the same water shortages because of frozen pipes that have burst, the online news service the DailyNK reported.
The water mains, which are located one meter (3.3 feet) underground cannot be reached through the frozen ground, the report said. Wells in surrounding villages are frozen as well.
The situation has given way to grumbling among ordinary citizens who resent the country’s small population of wealthy people who can afford to buy clean spring water.
“As tap water has become extremely scarce due to the supply cutoff, conflicts among residents have begun to flare up with the gap between rich and poor surfacing,” the source said. “Rich residents can drink water as usual by buying it from spring water shops, while poor residents have no choice but to fetch water from polluted rivers nearby.”
Spring water shops
Another source in North Hamgyong province told RFA that the water sold by shops in Chongjin is expensive because it is reputed to be an elixir from a spring dating back to ancient times.
Spring water shops in Chongjin are located between the Sunam and Songpyong train stations, where merchants usually sell the Shindok Spring and Buyun Spring brands, he said.
A 450-milliliter (15.2-fluid ounce) bottle of Shindok Spring water sells for 2,000 North Korean won (U.S. $0.25), while Buyun Spring water sells for 3,000 won (U.S. $0.37) for 20 liters, and 5,000 won (U.S. $0.60) for 50 liters, the source said.
Spring water merchants charge an additional 3,000 won for delivery, he said.
“Unlike Workers’ Party officials and the wealthy, ordinary people must buy water from river water peddlers and pay 1,000 won (U.S. $0.12) for 50 liters,” the source said.
But now the shops are running out of spring water because of increased demand, he said.
“Despite such a miserable situation, the relevant authorities have yet to come up with any workable plan to repair the frozen water pipes that burst, which is further exacerbating the suffering of North Koreans,” he said.
Reported by Jieun Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Changsop Pyon. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.