SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea’s capital faces its worst electricity shortages in years just as a new leadership takes power in the impoverished state and pushes ahead with lavish building projects to celebrate the centenary of its founder’s birth.
The Pyongyang-based diplomat, who asked not to be named, said the city of 3 million and home to the leadership elite, has seen daily power supplies almost evaporate as freezing winter temperatures bite.
“Embassies and others with generators are using them most of the time to compensate both for poor quality and cuts, and I can tell you that power problems are a main issue of discussion,” said the diplomat, one of a small number of foreigners allowed to live in the country.
“We certainly assess that there is more darkness on the streets and in the residential blocks in the evening than before/during the mourning period (for Kim Jong-il).”
The young Kim Jong-un has been declared the country’s new “supreme leader” following the death of his father Kim Jong-il in December.
Fuel shortages have long been a chronic problem in North Korea which is heavily sanctioned by the outside world for a series of nuclear and missile tests.
Temperatures in the capital on Wednesday hit -19 Celsius (-2 Fahrenheit).
This winter’s outages have coincided with Pyongyang’s building spree to mark the 100th anniversary this year of the birth of founder Kim Il-sung -- the current leader’s grandfather -- including building 100,000 new homes in the capital.
The North is also struggling with chronic food shortages, with United Nations’ food agencies estimating nearly 3 million people will need food assistance this year.
Media reports this week said that the North’s main ally China sent food shipments after Kim Jong-il’s death to stabilize the new leadership under his son.
Reporting by Jeremy Laurence; Editing by Ed Lane