Handling the Next North Korean Famine

According to the Wall Street Journal:

As severe hunger looms, the question for donors is whether to resume food aid to North Korea and, if so, how to ensure the assistance reaches the people most in need and is not diverted to the military. Proper monitoring is essential. Some critics think it would be impossible to monitor food deliveries, as the North Korean government would simply reject such a condition, fearing foreigners would learn too much about the world’s most secretive state.

But there is some precedent for meaningful, if not optimal, monitoring of food aid. For instance, the United Nations’ World Food Program conducted an average of 388 monitoring visits a month in 2005, and 440 a month in 2004. For much of these two years, U.N. employees had access to 160 of the country’s 203 counties and districts. More than half of the World Food Program’s international staff, numbering 32 at the end of 2005, were directly engaged in food aid monitoring during the year, and some of them spoke Korean. Such monitoring meant at least some of the young children, the elderly, the disabled, and pregnant and nursing women received food aid.

The North Korean government can hardly afford another period of severe nation-wide hunger. The country’s leaders know that at some point a social explosion is possible as people become desperate. During the years of the famine in the 1990s, North Koreans were still so brainwashed by government propaganda that they died in massive numbers at home, waiting for rations that never came, not letting go of their faith in Pyongyang to save them. North Koreans are now better informed about the outside world, and know whom to blame for their hunger. The survivors have learned that it is foolish, even dangerous, to blindly depend on the government to deliver food.

This means renewed massive hunger could pose a risk to the continuity of the North Korean government. As the Dear Leader, Kim Jong Il, works to ensure another leadership succession to his youngest son, Kim Jong Un, he should consider that North Koreans may not endure another epoch of massive hunger as quietly as they did the last one.

That political imperative may force Pyongyang to act sooner, rather than later. Given that, the foreign-aid community can—and should—insist that aid workers be allowed to properly monitor aid distribution according to standard international protocols for transparency and accountability. The North Korean government must also pledge to end discrimination in government distribution of food in favor of ruling party officials, the military, the intelligence services and the police—and against the “hostile” classes deemed politically disloyal to the government. Otherwise, most donors will remain reluctant to give food aid to North Korea. And that would be a tragedy, on a truly massive scale.

The DPRK  has yet to ask for assistance. 

Read the full story here:
Handling the Next North Korean Famine
Wall Street Journal
Kay Seok


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