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The U.N and International NGOs Met in Beijing to Discuss Food Aid for North Korea

The U.N and International NGOs Met in Beijing to Discuss Food Aid for North Korea

Posted June. 01, 2005 06:48,   


Non-governmental organizations at home and abroad, and officials from international organizations under the U.N announced a joint statement on May 31 after a three day-long international meeting ending May 30 in Beijing that addressed North Korean issues including food aid. During the meeting, they discussed various methods to help the North, such as education programs for North Koreans and converting humanitarian aid into development cooperation.

Kathi Zellweger, director of international cooperation for Catholic relief group Caritas said in a press conference, “North Korea needs support from international monetary institutions in order to shift humanitarian aid to development programs, but the North does not qualify for the requirements of the financial institutions. So it is necessary to bring out countermeasures.”

She also added that around five to five and half million tons of food are necessary to feed North Koreans annually, but currently the country is about two million tons short. She said, “North Korea planted seeds late this year due to bad weather conditions. On top of that, the North Koreans suffer from a pesticide shortage, so they are expected to have low crop yields.”

North Korea’s food shortage issue has drawn world’s attention again in 10 years. The World Food Program warned, “The North’s food shortage crisis could be the worst like one that the country faced in the mid 1990s.”

Food Shortages Since Then-

The U.N conducted a survey to recognize the nutrition conditions of North Korean children on thousands of children in 1998. The report was quite shocking since the results were very similar to those of the poorest countries on the African continent. The study revealed 60.6 percent of North Korean children failed to meet their standard weight, 15.6 percent were suffering from acute malnutrition, and 62.3 percent suffered from chronic malnutrition. The good news is that in a 2002 research study, these figures were reduced to 21 percent, 8.5 percent, and 41.6 percent, respectively. However, the situation could worsen if the North suffers another food crisis.

As food shortages become routine, the loyalty of North Koreans toward the country weakens. Also, conflicts among classes and provinces are getting severe since income disparities have been widening. The gap between the poor and the rich has dramatically widened since the late 1990s when the rationing system was in effect scrapped.

The reality is shown in common scenes of panhandlers begging from those who buy expensive tropical fruits in a market for farmers. For poor people who were educated with an equalitarian ideology, they only feel the sense of loss and deprivation. In contrast, for those who have accumulated wealth, North Korea is just like “heaven” these days.

In Chongjin, Hambuk, the price of rice, which was around 400 to 500 won in November last year, surged to 900 to 1000 won as of late May. Several cases of rice speculation have been reported.

Now, North Korea has become a county where people who have a sumptuous meal every day and those who keep alive with a bowl of porridge made of noodles (about 200g) are neighbors.

International Community Turns Blind Eye to the North-

Due to such a situation, the state has made all-out efforts this year in order to solve the food problem. For example, millions of workers have been forcefully mobilized to rural areas for the rice-planting season.

Supervisors check the confirmation sheet for rural area support at every entry for a market and approve access, which is unprecedented. The elderly often stage a so-called “war for human waste,” carrying baskets while looking around conventional rest rooms, since each household is required to provide a certain amount of manure.

The North Korean authorities have come up with various plans to improve food productivity, but are failing to overcome the country’s institutional limits.

Doctor Kwon Tae-jin at the Korea Rural Economic Institute analyzed, “The North has brought out many methods for better productivity, such as discretion enhancement in cooperative farms and the charge system of ‘Pojeon’ (meaning paddy and dry fields in North Korean). However, it has no more cards to play given the maintenance of the system.”

Much worse, international support is also deteriorating. The international community has donated about $2.3 billion from 1996 to the end of last year. But the number of donor nations has decreased. In particular, major donor countries such as the U.S and Japan have turned their back on food aid due to North Korea’s nuclear program and the issues of repatriating Japanese abducted by the North. China, its closest ally, has also stopped food exports to North Korea, mentioning bad harvests as an excuse.

Damage caused by the devastating tsunami in the Southeast Asian region was also bad news to a North that desperately needs food aid. At this juncture, South Korea is the only hope for the North. This year, the South Korean government pledged to help the North with 200,000 tons of fertilizer: almost half of the annual average of the North’s fertilizer consumption for the past 10 years.

Yoo-SeongHwang zsh75@donga.com yshwang@donga.com