Seoul temporarily halts aid one year after severe drought leaves many in need
South Korea will suspend humanitarian aid to North Korea temporarily, the Ministry of Unification (MoU) stated on Wednesday at a press briefing, citing the continuous provocations by Pyongyang.
The ministry said it is not clear whether humanitarian aid had been diverted for political purposes.
“The government is maintaining the policy of providing support for social minorities, but ceasing humanitarian communications under an extreme situation is inevitable,” MoU spokesperson Jung Joon-hee told journalists.
The remarks came one day after President Park Geun-hye’s speech at the National Assembly, in which she called for stronger sanctions on North Korea.
“Since the mid-1990s, the total value of aid to North Korea has been more than $2.2 billion and it’s more than $3 billion when including support from the private sector,” she said, adding that there will be no more unconditional assistance. There has been no direct government provision since 2011.
According to the MoU’s website the largest portion of humanitarian aid was implemented through international organizations, particularly for a maternity project which took up $5.53 million in total at the end of December.
The figure is in line with President Park’s past March 2014 Dresden speech in which she laid out the “1,000 days project” providing nutrition and health care for pregnant women and children. The MoU later signed an memorandum of understanding with the WFP in November 2014.
The total value of humanitarian aid from South Korea amounted to $20.7 million last year, while $11.7 million was provided through international organizations like the World Food Program (WFP) and UNICEF.
An official at the ministry contacted by NK News said the MoU receives the details on the expenditures.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs provided $8 million to North Korea from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) on February 2, despite the nuclear test in January. The funds will be used to sustain critical life-saving interventions aimed at improving nutrition for children and women.
“Humanitarian needs must be kept separate from political issues to ensure minimum living conditions for the most vulnerable people,” said Tapan Mishra, UN Resident Coordinator for the DPRK in a press release issued at the time.
A former humanitarian worker in North Korea for international organizations, Frederic Ojardias echoed the point, emphasizing the procedure for aid is closely monitored.
“It is possible to design assistance programs that help North Koreans and save lives without giving support to the regime,” Ojardias, currently lecturing at Seoul National University, told NK News.
“I think this kind of assistance should continue, as it is basically saving lives, by giving medicine and building hospitals. Many people have a false assumption that aid equals food, but this is not the case anymore,” he continued.
The WFP has faced a funding shortfall of $11.2 million on its project for children and mothers, Silke Buhr, Regional Communications Officer for Asia told NK News. “(The) WFP remains hopeful for future contributions by the Republic of Korea in support of its humanitarian operations in DPR Korea.”
UNICEF has estimated a more than 20 percent reduction in crop production last year, due to drought. There has been a 72 percent increase in the incidence of diarrhea among young children in drought-affected areas, the report said.
(Ha-young Choi is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She studied Korean history, mainly focusing on modern Korean history at Korea University. Follow her on twitter @Hy_Choi0826) – NK News