North Korea Population and Economy


In 1998 the population was estimated at 23,348,000 residents; in thirty-five years it has more than doubled: official estimates of 1963 attributed, in fact, to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) a population of 11,040,000 residents, which has risen to 18. 450. 000 in 1982. Contrary to most of the countries of the globe, the birth rate marked a slight increase, having gone from 22 ‰ in the early 1980s to over 24 ‰ in the mid-1990s; the mortality rate is slightly down; the annual demographic growth has been attested on 17 ‰ in the first half of the 1990s. The capital, Pyeongyang in 1996, was credited with a population of about 2, 5 million residents in the urban agglomeration.

Economic conditions

According to TOPB2BWEBSITES, the country is in a critical economic situation; if up to the 1960s the production system grew at rather high rates, over the last thirty years the economic conditions have progressively worsened and currently – even in the absence of official estimates – the economists of international organizations believe that the North Korea should fall within the range of states defined as low-middle income. Estimates on the size of per capita income vary between 900 and 1500 ÷ 1700 dollars a year; the considerations on the evolution of GDP are more in agreement: it is estimated that, in absolute values, during the nineties this decreased on average by 3 ÷4 % per year.

North Korea has remained one of the few economies in the world characterized by strong centralized control and extensive use of state planning: these are precisely the main obstacles that stand in the way of its development possibilities. The economy is also heavily penalized by technological deficiencies and the lack of modern equipment and skilled labor. As a result, the country suffers from very low production levels and excessive bureaucratization; over the last few years its situation has worsened further as a result of the occurrence of great climatic adversities. With the death of Kim Il-sŏng, in power for almost half a century, the country could have laid the foundations for an effective process of economic modernization.

As regards the productive sectors, it should be remembered that agriculture is in a very difficult situation. The land that can be used for cultivation is about one sixth of the total area, the forms of management are outdated, the companies do not have adequate equipment and in 1995 and 1996 there were very serious climatic anomalies that led to disastrous floods: entire crops were lost and official sources speak of damage assessable in over 20. 000 billion lire.

The strengthening of the primary sector represents a priority objective: the intensification of irrigation projects, the extension of mechanization and the electrification of the countryside is foreseen; the recourse to an intensive use of fertilizers is also foreseen. The previous development projects in the sector (expansion of agricultural land, construction of new terraces to derive other 200. 000 ha of land to be used for arable land, plans for reforestation) have largely remained on paper and since the mid-1980s the country has been forced to resort to massive imports of rice. This situation has now worsened considerably as a result of the climatic adversities. The prospects for both inland and ocean fishing appear favorable; However, although since the early eighties a target has been set 3, 5 million tonnes of fish landed, in 1995 the production totaled just over 1, 8 million tons. To strengthen this important item of local nutrition, the establishment of small cooperatives involving all the coastal villages was encouraged and a plan for the development of aquaculture was launched. Even in this sector, however, the country is suffering from a serious technological deficiency.

From a mining point of view, North Korea is relatively rich in coal, iron, lead and other raw materials. There is no oil and, despite the fact that about 100 million tonnes of coal and lignite are extracted annually, the country suffers from significant energy shortages which are an obstacle to the achievement of industrial policy objectives. The energy problem is further aggravated by an inadequate transport system, a low level of mechanization and outdated extraction methods.

The industrial apparatus is based on heavy sectors. As in all socialist countries, the basic industry has been privileged: the steel industry has a production capacity of over 10 million tonnes of steel per year and makes use of good reserves of iron ores. The cement sector is also important (production is around 15 ÷ 18 million tons per year); the chemical industry is undergoing sustained development, especially as a function of the production of agricultural fertilizers. On the contrary, the light sectors, destined for local consumption, are technologically obsolete, supply products of modest quality and are completely insufficient to satisfy local demand.

From an infrastructural point of view, the country has serious delays in the construction of communication networks. The railway network (about 8500 km in length) represents the fundamental transport system, while the road network is still in an embryonic stage.

North Korea Population