North Korea’s Kim Jong Un breaks ground for apartments, farm

North Korean leader attends groundbreaking ceremonies amid concerns for isolated country’s food situation.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attended groundbreaking ceremonies for a greenhouse farm and an apartment construction project [File: KCNA via Reuters]

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has broken ground for a greenhouse farm and 10,000 apartments in the capital, Pyongyang, state media reported, as the country grapples with tough economic conditions amid sanctions and deepening isolation.

Kim “personally pressed the blast button” and gave “warm encouragement” to construction workers at the groundbreaking ceremony for the housing project, the mouthpiece Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported on Thursday.

Kim also shovelled the first spade of earth for a greenhouse farm for “mass-producing tasty and nutritious green, fruit and functional vegetables”, the KCNA said.

“All the participants loudly chanted slogans to show their faith and will to fully display heroism and creativity as builders and defenders for the people’s happiness, mindful of the great trust and expectation of the respected General Secretary…” the KCNA said, referring to Kim by one of his numerous official titles.

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North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is the third generation of his family to rule his secretive country [KCNA via Reuters]

Kim, the third generation of his family to rule North Korea, enjoys a God-like status in his secretive country, where all political opposition and independent media are ruthlessly suppressed.

The groundbreaking ceremonies come after Kim last week staged a massive military parade in Pyongyang that prominently featured his daughter, Kim Ju Ae, and about a dozen intercontinental ballistic missiles.

North Korea’s economy, estimated to be between one-fortieth and one-fiftieth the size of that of neighbouring South Korea, was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, as tough border controls exacerbated the damage of chronic mismanagement and US-led sanctions targeting the country’s weapons development.

Gross domestic product (GDP) shrank for a second straight year in 2021, according to South Korea’s central bank.

“Housing construction is a major item in the five-year economic plan running through 2025. Perhaps most importantly, it is a goal the state can somewhat realistically achieve,” Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein, a non-resident fellow at the Stimson Center and editor of North Korean Economy Watch, told Al Jazeera.

“It’s a very old-style socialist type of quantitative goal for output which disregards general public demand and quality of construction. But in a time when the state is very open about the dire state of the economy, building houses is something it can still do and celebrate as progress, showing itself capable under difficult circumstances and perhaps inspiring the public to push through the tough conditions of severe cold and food shortages.”

During a ruling party meeting in December, officials emphasised construction and agricultural activities that are less dependent on trade as key focuses for economic development.

Despite international sanctions and censure, Kim has stated his intention to develop the world’s most powerful nuclear force and described his country’s nuclear-state status as “irreversible”.

North Korea’s ruling Korean Workers’ Party is due to hold a major meeting later this month to discuss the “urgent” task of improving agricultural production as outside analysts and officials warn that food shortage may be worsening inside the country.

More than four in 10 North Koreans were undernourished between 2019 and 2021, according to UN estimates.

North Korea in September restarted freight train services with China, with which it conducts more than 90 percent of its trade.

North Korean trucks have also resumed travel between the Chinese city of Hunchun and North Korea’s Rason, Japan’s Nikkei newspaper reported on Thursday.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies