North Korea Diverts Electricity from Provinces to Keep Pyongyang Powered

Construction projects in the capital prioritized as rural residents stumble in the dark.

North Korea Diverts Electricity from Provinces to Keep Pyongyang Powered

People living in North Korea’s rural areas have been forced to stumble in the dark without electricity after authorities re-routed power to keep the capital Pyongyang connected 24 hours a day, sources in the country told RFA.

North Korea has been unable to generate enough electricity for its needs for decades, and not even the capital – home to the most loyal and trusted citizens -- was immune to rolling blackouts.

Last month, however, Pyongyang began supplying electricity to homes around the clock, according to sources.

But the newfound abundance of power in Pyongyang has come at the expense of the people in the provinces, who must now endure long stretches without electricity.

“Since Chagang province has abundant water resources and is a military industrial district, we’ve never had electricity shortages, even during the Arduous March,” said a resident of the northern province’s Chunggang county, referring to the 1994-1998 famine that killed millions.

“We have a new medium-sized hydroelectric power plant here in Chunggang. When they were building it in 2018, they submitted reports to the party saying it could generate enough electricity for the whole county, but that turned out to be false. That’s why there’s a stoppage from the national electricity supply to the county,” the resident told RFA’s Korean Service Monday, asking for anonymity for security reasons.

The residents of Chunggang sacrificed much to build the power plant, according to the resident.

“It took 20 years of labor. We carried cement on our backs and blocked off the streams, but the plant only worked for the first few years before it stopped generating power,” the resident said.

“At the time the power plant was completed, they lifted restrictions on electricity use and every household in the town of Chunggang received a gift of an electric rice cooker from the Highest Dignity,” said the resident, using an honorific to refer to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The opening of the power plant and the gifts were touted as an example of Kim’s benevolence and love for the people, according to the resident.

“But it was the start of our suffering. It was already bad that corrupt officials submitted a false report to exaggerate their own achievements, but it was worse that the guy at the top is so ignorant of how we at the bottom are living, and he is only concerned about taking credit for everything,” said the resident.

As electricity is often unavailable in the people’s homes, the people have begun finding creative ways to access reliable power.

“Last month at the Chunggang County Youth Mine, the mine supervisor caught a worker leaving the mine while carrying a suspicious package very early in the morning. He thought she might be stealing something from work, so he made her open the package to see what was inside,” the resident said.

“To his surprise, he found her rice cooker. What had happened was that she came to work very early in the morning with the rice cooker because there was no power at her house. She had made a pot of rice and corn for breakfast and was returning home,” said the resident.

Residents outside of the major cities are mobilized many times per year for free farming work or labor for government projects. The resident said authorities are using the current mobilization period—when almost no one is at home during the day—as justification for the energy shortages in the countryside while Pyongyang is fully powered.

“There are some government officials and rich people out here who can bribe the officials at the power station or the factories to steal electricity by attaching their individual power line to the plant’s,” the resident said.

Another source, a high-ranking official in the nearby city of Manpo, who requested anonymity to speak freely, confirmed to RFA that Pyongyang was sucking all the power out of Chagang province.

“With all the water resources in Chagang and several power plants, we used to be self-sufficient,” the former official said.

“But electricity supply has become more of a severe issue out here in Chagang province due to Pyongyang’s increasing demand since 2016, when they built Ryomyong Street,” said the official.

The residential Ryomyong Street section of the capital includes a 70-storey skyscraper and was touted by authorities as an example of North Korea’s rapid economic development when it was finished in 2017.

“Since the Ministry of the Central Electric Power Industry introduced a complete electricity distribution management system in 2015, the electricity supply in Chagang province made a turn for the worse,” the official said.

The new system will automatically shut off electricity to an entire province if consumption exceeds its quota, according to the second source.

“Even the electricity produced in the province itself would be taken away by the central government and the people end up living in total darkness,” the official said.

Now as Pyongyang is trying to deliver on Kim Jong Un’s recent promise to alleviate the city’s housing shortage with 50,000 new homes by 2025, including 10,000 by the end of this year, the central government is rerouting all power across the country to the capital so that construction can continue around the clock, the official said.

“Pyongyang people are living a very extravagant life with their houses on well-lit streets while the residents of the provinces don’t even have enough juice to cook a measly pot of corn-rice, to say nothing of lights.”

RFA reported May 31 that Pyongyang residents were concerned that the city’s residential areas were getting continuous power only because the city’s factories and businesses were closed due to poor economic conditions.

“I don’t know whether to laugh or cry because we have 24/7 electricity in exchange for so many factories shutting down,” the Pyongyang resident said.

Reported by Yong Gun Shin and Jeong Yon Park for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Jinha Shin. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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Hundreds of Families Forced to Move for Lao Coal Plant Expansion

Villagers demand more in compensation, worry about life in a relocation village.

Hundreds of Families Forced to Move for Lao Coal Plant Expansion

Authorities in northwestern Laos are forcing hundreds of families to relocate to make way for the expansion of a lignite power plant, setting the stage for a dispute over compensation with residents who say they will be shortchanged by the communist government’s ambitious development plans.

A chief source of social tension in Laos and other Southeast Asian countries is the widespread practice of land grabs in which authorities remove residents and seize land for development projects or foreign-invested enterprises without paying fair compensation for lost crops, property, and livelihoods.

The 1,878 MW Hongsa power plant, the first lignite plant in Laos, began Phase I of its operations in 2015. Phase II began the following year when construction was completed, and now the plant is planning Phase III, an expansion.

Hongsa’s construction in the northwestern province of Xayaburi resulted in thousands of villagers losing land with little compensation. The expansion will displace hundreds more residents.

“The plant recently gained a new concession of an addition of 2,700 hectares of land for our Phase III expansion. The land will cover the entire village of Kiw Ngiew and a part of Pang Bong Village in Ngeun District, Xayaburi Province,” a member of Hongsa’s management team told RFA’s Lao Service June 4.

Kiw Ngiew is home to 115 families, while 18 more households live in Pang Bong, according to the source.

A provincial official confirmed the figures to RFA, adding that the province was helping to assess the families’ losses.

“The plant and authorities have agreed to pay 1,200 kip [U.S. $0.12] per square meter of farmland and 2,000 kip [$ 0.20] per square meter for constructed facilities,” the official said.

The residents claim the compensation is only a fraction of the true market value of their homes and farmland.

“It’s only 50 percent of what our property is worth. We need higher compensation because after we move to the resettlement village, we don’t want to be poor,” a Kiw Ngiew resident told RFA.

“We want to be able to live our life the same way we do now,” the resident said.

Another Kiw Ngiew resident told RFA that the villagers were given no choice but to move.

“Most of us want to stay because the compensation is too low and the new homes will be far below the value of our current homes,” the second Kiw Ngiew resident said.

A third villager told RFA that many were worried about what life would be like in the resettlement village.

“We’re still staying in our homes in our village and farming our own land for now because nothing has happened yet, but when we move to the resettlement village, where are we going to farm?” the third resident said.

“What kind of land are we going to get, if any at all? We know that the new land will be on top of a mountain with no access to water,” the third resident said.

In several other relocation cases, the central or provincial governments nominally cleared land for those who had to move, but often the land was situated in areas that would make agriculture either impossible or extremely difficult.

RFA reported that one group of relocated survivors of a dam collapse were so unhappy with the plots of land they were given after the disaster that they returned to the ruins of their old village to farm what was left of their land after the waters receded.

A resident of Pang Bong, the other village affected by Hongsa’s expansion, echoed the same concern to RFA.

“The new land will not be good, and nothing will grow on it. We will lose all our farms and gardens that are currently sitting on flat land near a small river,” the Pang Bong resident said.

“When that power plant expands, it will displace all the residents of our two villages. We’re losing our farms, cattle, livestock, our forest and our water source. All of these resources are going to be taken away by this project,” the Pang Bong resident added.

Another resident of Pang Bong told RFA about everything the residents would lose in the relocation away from the river.

“People in our village can drink, bathe, fish, grow vegetables and raise cattle, livestock and poultry.”

The Lao language version of the Vientiane Times reported on June 2 that construction on the resettlement village began March 1 and is expected to be complete by November.

Beyond the human toll, Hongsa’s expansion will be detrimental to the area’s biodiversity, an environmental official told RFA.

“The expansion will cut down large parts of the forest, causing wildlife to disappear,” the official said.

Health experts say that Hongsa is dangerous to those living near it, increasing risk of cancer, respiratory problems, and birth defects due to exposure to pollution.

The Hongsa powerplant, like many of Laos’ hydroelectric dams, generates power that Laos sells to neighboring countries, in line with the country’s aim to become the “Battery of Southeast Asia.

Though the Lao government is betting on power generation to transform the country’s economy, the projects are controversial because of their environmental impact on fisheries and agriculture, and the displacement of villagers.

Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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