North Korea: Currency 'Reform' Has Caused Chaos, Panic

Jerry Dykstra | Open Doors USA | Monday, July 19, 2010

North Korea: Currency 'Reform' Has Caused Chaos, Panic

July 20, 2010

SANTA ANA, Calif. - North Korea is moving closer and closer to the edge. 

In secret, Open Doors spoke with a Christian from the No. 1 country on the Open Doors World Watch List of the top 50 nations persecuting Christians. 

Over the course of the past eight months, he has witnessed a change in his fellow countrymen. "It is downright chaos and utter panic," he states. 

Late last year, most Western newspapers published a small news article entitled: "North Korea Devaluates its National Currency." 

In an attempt to gain access to as much money as possible, Kim Jong-Il decided to implement a national currency reform of the North Korean won. Through radio broadcasts, citizens heard the message that they had only one week to exchange their savings for the new currency. One thousand won would be worth only 10, which meant that money saved up for years would be reduced to almost nothing. To add to this, they could only exchange a maximum of 100,000 won of their old savings, which would become 1,000 won. 

"A terrible blow to our people," says the Open Doors contact person. "Do you know what you can buy for 1,000 won?....two kilos (4.4 pounds) of rice or 20 bottles of water. Some people had been saving up for 10 years. And the government is letting people down. It was not until November that state media officially stated that salaries would no longer be paid. We were left to fend for ourselves." 

He goes on: "Recently I saw a group of school children walking alongside the road. They were picking grass and plants. The school requires them to collect a daily amount of plants and herbs for the school (to eat)." 

Until November 2009, people had been able to take care of themselves. 

"Of course, the situation was bad compared to other countries. People were dying of starvation, but many others succeeded in surviving. After the currency reform, people started to panic. Many literally suffered from heart attacks when they heard they had lost their savings. I heard the story of a woman who had bought rice in China and had traded it for a lot of money in North Korea. A day later, all that money had been reduced to mere paper. She committed suicide. Some of my friends and acquaintances had been saving up for years. They have enormous regrets about that now." 

The government also announced in December 2009 that people could only use U.S., European and Chinese currencies. 

"Hundreds of people simultaneously rushed to the stores in blind panic," the North Korean Christian said. "I have seen rows of people that were fighting to get into the stores to buy products. One store sold several hundred flat-screen TVs in one month. Many other electrical appliances were sold within days. I have seen a woman pay the price of $2,700 for something, but also a woman with one dollar in her hand. She was scouring biscuits and other cheap foods. How could she best make use of that one dollar? It was a heart-rending image. Others tried to make a profit. They went through a lot of trouble to buy a package of biscuits for one dollar, for example, and sold it to other people for $1.20." 

The national economy has come to a full stop. Nobody wants to spend money. 

"The food has become way too expensive," says the Open Doors source. "You can compare the first months of this year with the 1990s when so many people died of starvation. The situation has improved somewhat, but horrendous things are still taking place. 

"I heard of a train that recently stopped unexpectedly in an abandoned area. Such a train usually departs again after two or three days. Not now. The train stopped for nine days. The passengers had to take care of themselves. At least eight people died; many others had to be hospitalized. This is the world in which we are living." 

Please pray for: 

  • North Korean Christians who are suffering not only severe persecution, but also the lack of food for their families.
  • The Word of God to go out in the world's most restrictive government. 
  • Christians will be a shining light in an otherwise dark and dreary country. 

An estimated 100 million Christians worldwide suffer interrogation, arrest and even death for their faith in Christ, with millions more facing discrimination and alienation. Open Doors supports and strengthens believers in the world's most difficult areas through Bible and Christian literature distribution, leadership training and assistance, Christian community development, prayer and presence ministry and advocacy on behalf of suffering believers. To partner with Open Doors USA, call toll free at 888-5-BIBLE-5 (888-524-2535) or go to our Website at