North Korea resumes its distribution of food rations

food rations

A PDS office, where North Koreans collect food rations.

The North Korean state appears to have reinstated the provision of food rations to ordinary North Koreans, which came to a halt in the mid-late 90s.

According to our North Korean sources, the distribution of food rations was resumed nationwide beginning March 1st. Warehouse No.2, which holds wartime (military mobilization) rice, was opened to provide food supplies for ordinary citizens.

The rations are distributed according to a 15 day cycle. This time, it is said to have taken place on three consecutive occasions.

This is not the first time that there has been an apparent resumption of food distribution to ordinary citizens. Though it is not unusual as a way of celebrating special national holidays, it is the first time that Warehouse No.2 has been opened for the purpose of providing food to civilians.

In North Korea, the adjective ‘No.1′ may only be used in reference to the ruling Kim and his family, and so there is no Warehouse No.1. Warehouse No.2 handles military food provisions, while No.3 handles supplies connected to the state’s international business infrastructure – the term ‘warehouse’ is metaphorical in this case. Warehouse No.4 is responsible for supplies other than food for wartime purposes.

Access to food from Warehouse No.2 is said to be controlled by each military-city unit in response to an urgent national policy directive, or to make room for new food during the ‘conversion season’, in which food in storage can be distributed and replaced. The fact that Warehouse No.2 was opened not according to an urgent national policy directive, nor during a ‘conversion season’, marks this distribution cycle as unusual. Significantly, sources say that the rations were also given to those without state jobs.

Why did the North Korean state decide to open its war-time rice supply?

According to one of our correspondents, Kim Jong-un said, “The modern day war will only last for three days, and so there is no need to keep six months worth of rice in storage.” This statement proclaims that even if war were to take place, it would not be a long one.

On March 22nd, the North Korean state had declared through its inter-Korean mouthpiece, Uriminzokkiri, that, “The unification-war scenario is one that will end within three days.”

This recent and unusual distribution of rations may be aimed at increasing the mystique of Kim Jong-un among the ordinary North Korean people. Ever since the collapse of the Public Distribution System (PDS), any resumption of the distribution of rations has been short-lived.

In this context, a source added, “Many of us were surprised at the third consecutive distribution of rations. We expected it to end after one or two cycles as it had before. Now people are anticipating the cycle to continue for at least another round; and rice prices are continuing to fall in the jangmadang (marketplace).”

In the long run, this is not necessarily in the interest of ordinary citizens. It has been reported that women of forty-five years or younger are actively being prohibited from going to the jangmadang and are being ordered to return to their state jobs. This may be an attempt to undermine the development of the underground economy.