Why is North Korea dark at night

Darkness reveals bitter poverty in North Korea

Vienna / Pyongyang - In 2012 satellite images went around the world that showed North Korea from an astonishing (and yet not really surprising) side. The sea of ​​lights of South Korea and China shone in the night shots - while in between, in North Korea, a pool of darkness stretched. Almost the entire national territory presented itself as dark as if it were not inhabited land, but the sea.

At that time, the pictures were still perceived as a curiosity. But it is precisely such data that the economist Jesus Crespo Cuaresma from the Vienna University of Economics and Business (WU) used to draw conclusions about the social conditions in the isolated country. Because practically no information and data is available on the income and poverty levels in North Korea.

The calculation method

The head of the Institute for Macroeconomics at WU and his team have therefore made estimates using satellite images taken at night. "The light intensity, which is measured by satellites in various regions of North Korea, provides information about the poverty level. In general, the brightness of an area or a country often correlates with consumption and the production activities there," explains the scientist.

This made it possible to estimate the North Korean gross domestic product. This suggests that the poverty rates are significantly higher than those calculated in previous studies. They estimated the proportion of people living below the poverty line to be almost 40 percent of the population. The WU researchers now assume that around 60 percent of North Koreans live in absolute poverty, i.e. around 15 million people. The study estimates the average per capita income at around $ 790 - one of the lowest in the world.

"Absolute Poverty"

Absolute poverty is when the household income is below the level that enables a person or family to meet the basic needs of life - these include, for example, food, shelter, safe drinking water, education and health care.

The data from high quality satellite imagery would show a very volatile income situation in North Korea over the past decade. "The sanctions imposed on North Korea by countries and international bodies in recent years may explain some of the fluctuations in income and poverty levels observed between 2012 and 2018," said Crespo Cuaresma. (red, APA, March 18, 2020)