Cold snap across Asia hurts North Koreans already struggling amid covid – The Washington Post

Sign in
SEOUL — Winter in the northern reaches of North Korea, the inhospitable areas where those deemed “hostile” to the ruling Kim regime are left to their own devices, is difficult at the best of times.
Right now, in the two weeks in the traditional Asian calendar known as the “Major Cold” because it is the most frigid of the year, it is far from the best of times.
It was the “harshest time of the year,” said Choi Song-juk, who comes from the northern North Korean province of Ryanggang, on the border with China.
A brutal wave of cold and snow has swept across northeastern Asia this week. The freezing temperatures and icy conditions have created chaos in Japan and South Korea, grounding flights, stalling traffic and resulting in deaths.
China’s northernmost city recorded a temperature of minus-63.4 degrees (minus-53 Celsius) this week, the coldest measured in the country during modern times. Even in subtropical Taiwan, meteorologists have issued cold weather advisories.
North Korea’s state meteorological agency has also issued alerts for extreme cold this week, describing the onslaught as “the most bitter cold wave in 23 years.” Temperatures in Pyongyang, the capital, were expected to plumb minus-2 degrees (-19C), but in northern areas, like Choi’s hometown, the mercury could get as low as minus-22 (-30C), North Korean state radio warned.
It called for “thorough cold-weather measures to prevent damages in agriculture, power production, urban management, transport and other economic sectors,” and it urged the public to look after their health.
The arctic blast that has hobbled East Asia this week has proved particularly challenging for North Korea, a country with a complex humanitarian crisis, including chronic energy and food shortages.
These northern areas of North Korea — unlike in Japan or South Korea or even northern China — do not have apartment buildings with electric heating. In Ryanggang and Hamgyong provinces on the northern border with China, rural houses rely on underfloor heating fueled by coal or wood. Many use plastic sheeting over their windows to try to insulate their houses from the bitter cold.
Widespread problems in heating supply, food security and health care in North Korea compound the devastation of extreme weather, which meteorologists in South Korea say is becoming more common because of climate change.
N. Korea’s Kim vows ‘exponential’ increase in nuclear arsenal in new year
It is now even more difficult than usual to get information from North Korea because leader Kim Jong Un has kept the country hermetically sealed for three years, since the outbreak of the coronavirus in neighboring China.
Diplomats, aid workers and traders who usually go back and forth are no longer able to offer glimpses into life in the world’s most closed state. Even the trickle of defectors has dried up.
Kim’s propaganda machine offers only favorable insights. State television this week showed layered-up urban citizens celebrating the Lunar New Year holiday in scenic snow.
But such winter conditions pose life-threatening hardships to those in the impoverished countryside, former residents say. “My hands and feet would freeze climbing the icy mountain to find wood,” said Choi, who escaped to South Korea in 2014. “I was so hungry and thirsty, and eating snow was sometimes the only option.”
Except for privileged citizens living in Pyongyang’s centrally heated homes, most North Koreans are “entirely left on their own to keep themselves warm,” said Lee Sang-yong of Daily NK, a Seoul-based news service with informants inside North Korea.
Those living in impoverished northern provinces like Ryanggang and Hamgyong have to find their own coal or wood, which is in short supply as the extreme cold has increased demand, Lee said.
On top of that, North Korean authorities have recently increased crackdowns on overlogging, making it hard for poor residents to source firewood, according to a report from Radio Free Asia, which has sources inside North Korea, on Wednesday.
Decades of subsistence living has left the mountains bare as North Koreans went farther and farther in search of wood for heating and cooking, prompting the Kim regime to promote reforestation of mountainous areas.
“The crackdown is aggravating firewood shortage for residents,” a Ryanggang resident was quoted as telling RFA. “Many of us are shivering in this severe cold of minus-40 degrees Celsius.”
How North Korea’s thought police hunt down foreign influences
The pandemic is only adding to wintertime challenges in North Korea. Lacking medical resources for treatment or vaccination against covid, the country has largely relied on severe social distancing restrictions and border lockdowns to fight the infectious disease.
North Korea does not publicize its number of coronavirus cases, but state media outlets continue to report on anti-virus measures in place across the country.
Citing heightened risks of respiratory illness in wintertime, the Korean Central News Agency said this week the “emergency anti-epidemic work is the country’s top priority.”
North Korean authorities have ordered a five-day lockdown in the capital city until Sunday, citing the spread of an unspecified respiratory disease, according to an official order. The Russian Embassy in Pyongyang posted a photo of the order on its Facebook page.
Omicron variants of the coronavirus have been rampaging through China since restrictions were dropped last month, with authorities saying about 80 percent of the population has been infected in this wave.
Experts say North Korean authorities are exploiting the covid restrictions to control people’s movement and justify crackdowns on illegal trade. Lee said that just “adds to the burden” of regular North Koreans. “This is a very harsh winter for them,” he said.


Leave a Comment

Upvote. Mzansi porn videos fucking bbw.
Verified by MonsterInsights