Eight years after the last Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), UNICEF and the North Korean government last month released the results of the 2017 MICS. The survey is based on questionnaires, interviews, and data from 8499 households in all nine provinces, plus Pyongyang.
The MICS methodology and system is designed to create data that can be used for international comparison, as well as measuring progress towards national and international goals. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), the successors to the Millenium Development Goals, address seventeen areas of human development, and are used to give international context and framework for the areas explored in the Survey.
MICS were also conducted in the DPRK in 2000 and 1998, but only the 2009 and 2017 Surveys included data from nine provinces and Pyongyang.
For anyone interested in North Korea, the MICS is a treasure trove of information. The survey includes data ranging from how many people share a room for sleeping (DPRK average is 2.73) to the percentage of women from ages 15 to 49 that watch TV at least once a week (DPRK average is 97.7%). Data is further broken down into rural and urban, as well as by province.
While some current popular topics of analysis and discussion about the DPRK are present, such as information intake, others, such as marketization, are not very prominent. Markets are mentioned in questionnaires as a potential source of some materials, like oral rehydration salts for children suffering from diarrhea, but are not a stand-alone category and do not otherwise feature in the survey.
In a similar vein, the Public Distribution System is not mentioned at all in the report.
For anyone interested in North Korea, the MICS is a treasure trove of information
IMPROVEMENTS FROM PREVIOUS SURVEYS
UNICEF and the DPRK government, along with other partners at various points in time including the World Food Programme and the European Union, have now released four MICS from 1998, 2000, 2009, and 2017. The 1998 report shows how much survey methodology and scope has improved in the nearly twenty years since – sample sizes have increased from 3600 households in 1998 to nearly 8500 in 2017.
The 2017 survey included six questionnaires focusing on children, women, men, household information, and water quality. This is more comprehensive than previous surveys, with the 2009 and 2000 MICS comprising three questionnaires (household, women, and children) and the 1998 using one comprehensive questionnaire with eleven modules.
The inclusion of a male-specific questionnaire shows a potential for greater understanding of how gender can affect different aspects of North Korean life, as now there are more points of comparison through which to examine women’s health, skills, and other data included in the survey.
For the first time, women’s contraceptive use was included in the 2017 report (the most popular contraceptive amongst married North Korean women is the IUD, according to the survey data).
Another new addition is menstrual hygiene practices, with the data showing the use of reusable vs. nonreusable materials is highly dependent on location (93% of women in Pyongyang reported using nonreusable materials, while in South Hamgyong over 80% of women used reusable menstrual hygiene materials).
Attitudes towards domestic violence, disciplining children, and the ratio of girls to boys attending schools were also featured in the survey. The inclusion of such data is demonstrative not only of the wider scope of the 2017 survey, but also of increasing global engagement with gender issues.
The nature of the MICS prevents it from fully addressing more grey or wholly illegal aspects of life
IMPLICATIONS – AND LIMITATIONS
The survey was conducted in partnership with the DPRK government. Illicit mass media and information was thus unlikely disclosed to the team, though the survey did not ask about the source of consumed media. While attitudes were explored in relation to some aspects of the survey, most questions did not reveal the factors that contributed to a household’s situation.
For example, more people owned a mobile phone than had ever used a computer, with 55.7% of men and 47.9% of women reporting to own a mobile phone but only 18.7% of households reporting to own a computer. The comparative cost, electricity needs, and multiple uses of phones in comparison to computers perhaps make them more attractive to North Koreans, but the survey did not delve into such attitudes and decision-making processes.
Thus while the survey is an exciting source of information, the limits to the data must be recognized and any discussion as to why certain patterns emerge should be duly noted as theory and not pulled directly from the data.
Other limitations are inherent to working in the DPRK – while access has increased for many humanitarian agencies since the mid-1990s, portions of the population are still likely to be inaccessible to foreigners.
This includes prisoners held in camps, whose living conditions, health data, and nutritional status may differ widely from the general population. The sample size of the MICS has increased in the DPRK since the first survey, but still lags behind countries with comparable population sizes.
Mozambique included 14,300 households in its most recent MICS sample size in 2008, while Cameroon’s 2014 MICS attempted to interview 10,748 households. All three countries had high household response rates of at least 97.9%. The size of the DPRK survey is notable in comparison to past surveys and is an area to watch for future surveys.
Portions of the population are still likely to be inaccessible to foreigners
The survey shows improvement in child nutrition from previous MICS. Proponents of aid may point to this to show that aid is working and has made a positive impact since the mid-1990s. However, those looking to curtail humanitarian aid efforts may also select data from the survey to assert that the DPRK no longer needs aid.
A third implication may be the greater debate about the location of aid, as the geographical breakdowns tend to demonstrate a more developed Pyongyang. Especially if South Korean non-governmental groups are able to regain access to the DPRK in large numbers, as they did during the Sunshine Policy, considering where aid is most needed will be vital to the humanitarian impact of their work.
While the nature of the MICS, as a joint UNICEF/DPRK government undertaking, prevents it from fully addressing more grey or wholly illegal aspects of life in the DPRK, it provides a great source of information and brings up many questions for the future of the country and its population.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
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Featured Image: CPC_0782 by nknews_hq on 2016-10-06 10:48:44