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How Available are DPRK Statistics?
Author: Lee Suk
Region: Asia
Location: Korea, North
Published May 25, 2011
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A common problem facing students of the economy of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is the shortage of available statistics. It is extremely challenging to procure DPRK data, and even the few available statistics are in many cases fragmented, discontinuous, and seemingly unreliable. In consequence, economics literature tends to assume that there are few DPRK statistics available, and followers of events in the DPRK have become accustomed to understanding the DPRK economy without statistics or using secondary sources of estimated data. For the past two decades, however, DPRK economic situations and environments have fundamentally changed, which casts doubt on whether available DPRK data are as scarce as generally conceived.

An important characteristic of the DPRK economy since the 1990s is that it has degenerated into an aid-dependent economy. Since 1995, the country has received a large amount of international assistance, and it has become home to the United Nations and other international organizations dispatching outside observers for on-site inspection to Pyongyang and other provinces. In such circumstance it is natural that the international community has actively requested and come into possession of DPRK data. Even within the DPRK, assembling and providing data to the international organizations operating in Pyongyang were necessary in order to maintain its impoverished economy. Note that this circumstance has lasted for 15 years. This suggests that an increasing amount of data on the DPRK may exist in the outside world.

If this inference is correct, the availability problem of DPRK data might be addressed in a manner different from before. In the past, the situation was that the outside world had few reliable statistics about the DPRK. In the present, however, the question is whether students of the DPRK economy are capable of finding those statistics that may exist somewhere in the world outside of the DPRK. But how realistic is the above inference? To answer this question we will examine how the availability of DPRK statistics has actually changed from the time of the foundation of the country in 1945 to the present day.

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