UPDATE 32 (2012-1-27): According to an article in the New York Times, inter-Korean trade and aid declined in 2011:
On Friday, the South’s Unification Ministry said that South Korean aid to the North fell to 19.6 billion won, or $17.5 million, last year , down more than 51 percent from a year earlier .
Inter-Korean trade fell by more than 10 percent [from 2010 to 2011] to about $1.5 million in 2011, the ministry said.
UPDATE 31 (2011-12-10): According to the Korea Times, the potential food aid is not being auctioned off. It is being sent to South America. According to the article:
Seoul will send baby food originally offered as aid to North Korea to El Salvador following Pyongyang’s refusal to accept delivery, to help the South American country deal with damaging floods, officials said Friday.
The delivery consists of 190,000 packs of baby food that were part of a $4.4 million flood aid package to the North, which the Stalinist regime rejected two months ago amid high tension.
It was slated to depart from the port city of Busan via cargo ship for El Salvador, which has appealed for help to deal with floods that displaced tens of thousands earlier this year.
Seoul offered the aid, which also included biscuits and instant noodles, to help the North deal with torrential summer rains. But Pyongyang demanded cement and equipment instead and eventually shunned the offer altogether.
The rerouting of the items underscores lingering tension despite efforts to warm ties and eventually resume regional dialogue on dismantling the North’s nuclear program. Regional players want the situation on the peninsula to improve before the talks begin.
Pyongyang’s silence over the aid put a damper on the early signs of improvement. President Lee Myung-bak has been exercising a softer line since September, when he tapped close aide Yu Woo-ik as unification minister, including expanding humanitarian activities and cultural exchanges.
But the North, apparently seeking rice and other forms of massive aid, has recently slammed the flexible policy as political pandering to the South Korean public, which is gearing up for elections next year.
Such remarks come even as the unification ministry continues to approve northbound aid, including $5.65 million worth for infants, children and pregnant women through the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Consultations are ongoing over how to provide more of the baby food. Seoul has also attempted to auction some of it off through a government website.
The North Korean regime is thought to be doing all it can to secure food and other handouts ahead of next April, when it will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of its founder Kim Il-sung. Watchers say that the North is liable to alternate pressure and peace offensives to secure as much aid as it can through inter-Korean and multilateral channels.
UPDATE 30 (2011-12-6): According to the Korean Herald the first auction of potential food aid (See Update 27 below) did not go so well, so Seoul is trying again:
South Korea plans a second attempt to auction off baby food originally intended for North Korean children, officials said Tuesday.
The move comes after nobody bid for 540,000 packs of baby food on Onbid, an auction Web site run by the state-run Korea Asset Management Corp.
South Korea plans to issue a second public notice and adjust the prices, said an official handling the issue at the Unification Ministry. He did not elaborate on further details.
The baby food is part of 5 billion won ($4.4 million) worth of emergency relief aid South Korea had planned to ship to North Korean flood victims earlier this year.
South Korea dropped that plan in October after differences between the two Koreas on the items to be sent. South Korea had insisted it would deliver baby food, biscuits and instant noodles to the North, instead of the cement and equipment its communist neighbor had requested.
Separately, South Korea has been in talks with local private relief agencies over how to donate another 290,000 packs of baby food to other countries, according to another ministry official.
She declined to give further details, saying consultations are taking place.
UPDATE 29 (2011-12-5): The South Koreans will donate US$5.65 million to the DPRK via UNICEF. Accoring to Yonhap:
South Korea said Monday it will donate US$5.65 million (about 6.5 billion won) for humanitarian projects in North Korea through the U.N. body responsible for the rights of children.
The donation to the United Nations Children’s Fund, or UNICEF, will benefit about 1.46 million infants, children and pregnant women in North Korea, according to the Unification Ministry, which is in charge of relations with the North.
Seoul’s contribution will be used to provide vaccines and other medical supplies as well as to treat malnourished children next year, said the ministry.
There have been concerns that a third of all North Korean children under five are chronically malnourished and that many more children are at risk of slipping into acute stages of malnutrition unless targeted assistance is sustained.
“The decision is in line with the government’s basic stance of maintaining its pure humanitarian aid projects for vulnerable people regardless of political situation,” Unification Ministry spokesman Choi Boh-seon told reporters.
South Korea has been seeking flexibility in its policies toward the North to try to improve their strained relations over the North’s two deadly attacks on the South last year.
South Korea donated $20 million for humanitarian projects in North Korea through the UNICEF between 1996 and 2009.
Last month, the South also resumed some $6.94 million worth of medical aid to the impoverished communist country through the World Health Organization.
Separately, South Korea also decided to give 2.7 billion won ($2.3 million) to a foundation to help build emergency medical facilities in an industrial complex in the North Korean border city of Kaesong.
More than 47,000 North Koreans work at about 120 South Korean firms operating in the industrial zone to produce clothes, utensils, watches and other goods. The project serves as a key legitimate cash cow for the impoverished communist country.
UPDATE 28 (2011-12-1): Distribution of private aid monitored in N.Korea. According to the Hankyoreh:
“North Koreans know that the wheat flour aid they received came from South Korea.”
These were the words of Cho Joong-hoon, director of the Unification Ministry’s humanitarian assistance division, during a meeting with reporters Wednesday at the Central Governmental Complex in Seoul upon his return from a recent visit to North Korea to monitor the distribution of aid.
“The name of the South Korean private aid group, the manufacturing company, the date, and the address were all printed on the packages of flour,” Cho said.
Arriving in North Korea on Sunday with Kim Min-ha, co-chairman of the private group Ambassadors for Peace, and three others, Cho visited three sites to observe the distribution of the 300 tons of flour provided in aid. The site were the Namchol Kindergarten, February 16 Refinery Kindergarten, and Tongmun Nursery in Chongju, North Pyongan.
It was the first visit to any part of North Korea besides Kaseong and Mt. Kumkang by a government official in the one year since the Yeonpyeong Island artillery attack on Nov. 23, 2010.
Cho said that the distribution, storage, preparation, and supply of the flour were monitored and that everything was confirmed to be proceeding as planned.
On the situation on the ground, Cho said, “Judging simply from the nursery and two kindergartens, the children’s nutritional condition does not appear to be good.” Cho noted that no heating was being supplied to the facilities despite the cold weather.
Cho said that while North Korean authorities did not official request food aid, a request was made under unofficial circumstances.
Cho also noted that construction efforts were under way on a highway connecting Pyongyang with Sinuiju.
“It is not very far from Pyongyang to Chongju, but I think the trip took about four hours because of the detour around the highway construction,” he said.
Analysts said this appears to be linked to hurried infrastructure building efforts, including highway servicing and construction, amid recent moves by North Korea to rebuild its economy through a stronger economic partnership with China.
UPDATE 27 (2011-11-29): Seoul auctions off “unwanted” DPRK food assistance. According ot the Korea Times:
South Korea has taken steps to auction off some baby food originally intended for North Korean children, an official said Tuesday.
The move comes nearly two months after South Korea dropped a plan to send 5 billion won ($4.3 million) worth of aid to North Korean flood victims, citing no response from the North as the reason for the change of plan.
South Korea had insisted it would deliver baby food, biscuits and instant noodles to the North instead of cement and equipment requested by the North.
South Korea’s Red Cross, which handles relief aid to the North, gave public notice of a bid for 540,000 packs of baby food on Onbid, an auction website run by the state-run Korea Asset Management Corp.
Separately, South Korea has been in talks with local private relief agencies over how to donate the other 290,000 packs of baby food to foreign countries.
Unification Minister Yu Woo-ik has ruled out rice aid to the communist country unless Pyongyang admits to last year’s deadly provocations.
South Korea suspended unconditional aid in 2008 and imposed sanctions on the North last year in retaliation for the sinking of a South Korean warship that was blamed on the North.
The North has denied involvement in the sinking that killed 46 sailors. It also shelled a South Korean border island in November 2010, killing four South Koreans.
Still, South Korea has selectively allowed religious and private aid groups to deliver humanitarian and medical assistance to North Korea.
Also on Tuesday, a Unification Ministry official and four civilians were to return home after a rare trip to the North aimed at ensuring that South Korea’s recent private aid had reached its intended beneficiaries.
UPDATE 26 (2011-11-25): According to Yonhap, ROK officials are traveling to the DPRK to monitor food aid:
A South Korean official and four civilians left for North Korea on Friday on a rare mission to ensure that recent aid from Seoul had reached its intended beneficiaries, an official said.
The trip comes a day after North Korea threatened to turn South Korea’s presidential office into “a sea of fire” in anger over Seoul’s massive military maneuvers near the tense sea border.
The Unification Ministry official and four civilians were to arrive in the North’s capital later Friday via Beijing, according to the Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs.
It is first time that North Korea has allowed a South Korean official to travel to the isolated country to monitor aid since a conservative government took power in Seoul in 2008.
They are scheduled to visit a day care center and two other child care facilities in the northwestern city of Jongju to monitor how 300 tons of flour were distributed to children and other recipients, according to a civic group.
Ambassadors for Peace Association, a civic group that is partly funded by the Unification Group, donated the flour to Jongju, the birthplace of Unification Church founder Moon Sun-myung.
The civic group said the monitors also plan to discuss details on another 300 tons of flour aid before returning home Tuesday. Some members of the civic group are associated with the controversial Unification Church.
Read previous posts on the ROK’s aid to the DPRK in 2011 below:
UPDATE 25 (2011-11-22): Contrary to earlier beliefs, it appears that the ROK is not about to resume bilateral food shipments to the DPRK. According to the Choson Ilbo:
Unification Minister Yu Woo-ik, commenting on potential food aid to North Korea, on Monday said, “We can’t dish up rice to someone who shoots at us.” Yu made the remark in a meeting with representatives of the Korean community in China.
He added North Korea “must admit its wrongful military provocations and assure us that they will never happen again.”
The remarks appear to affirm the government’s position that no large-scale food aid will be given to North Korea until it takes responsibility for the sinking of Cheonan and shelling of Yeonpyeong Island last year.
But Yu, who is seen as more dove-ish than his predecessor, added, “More flexible measures are needed to create an environment for dialogue free of unnecessary tensions. North Korea is the indispensable other half of the reunification process.”
UPDATE 24 (2011-11-15): According to the Hankyoreh, the ROK will provide vaccines for DPRK children:
South Korea will provide vaccines against hepatitis B for more than 1 million North Korean children, a Seoul official said Tuesday, in the latest conciliatory gesture toward the communist neighbor.
The vaccines, worth 1.06 billion won ($942,300), will be delivered to the North through international relief agencies in the South as early as this month, said the official at Seoul‘s Unification Ministry, which handles relations with Pyongyang.
The announcement comes a week after South Korea authorized the resumption of some $6.94 million worth of medical aid to the communist country through the World Health Organization. It also comes as Seoul has recently pledged a principled but flexible policy toward the North after months of tension and sanctions against Pyongyang following two deadly attacks on the South last year. It is the first time South Korea is providing vaccines to the North since the attack on Yeonpyeong Island.
Meanwhile, a group of South Korean historians and cultural artifact experts traveled to North Korea yesterday to conduct a joint safety survey of the site of an ancient royal palace in the communist state, officials said.
The visit was to follow up on a meeting held in North Korea on Oct. 28 between historians of the two Koreas where they agreed to a quick resumption of a long-stalled inter-Korean project to excavate the site. The two Koreas launched the project to uncover the remains of Manwoldae, the royal palace of the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392), in the North Korean border town of Kaesong in 2007.
UPDATE 23 (2011-11-9): ROK aid to the DPRK resumes via the WFP. According to the Hankyoreh:
The government resumed deliveries of humanitarian aid to North Korea on Tuesday through a United Nations organization. This marks the first delivery of government-funded aid to North Korea since the November 2010 artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island.
An official with the Ministry of Unification said Tuesday that approval was granted for the delivery of $6.94 million in aid that had been withheld from $13.12 million in government aid provided to the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2009 for humanitarian assistance in North Korea. A related document was sent to the WHO, the official added.
Seoul has been providing funding for a medical assistance program in North Korea as part of a five-year WHO plan that began in 2006. But in 2009 it requested a halt to disbursement of the remaining $6.94 million in aid amid deteriorating inter-Korean relations.
Analysts said the latest measure appears to be part of a policy of conciliation with North Korea since Yu Woo-ik took over as Unification Minister. In a Nov. 5 meeting with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Yu said he would “actively consider” delivering government humanitarian aid to North Korea through a U.N. organization.
Seoul has not provided any government-funded assistance to North Korea since sending five thousand tons of rice and three thousand tons of cement in October and November 2011 for assistance with flood damages in Sinuiju.
In September, the government proposed a shipment of 5 billion won ($4.5 million) in aid to North Korea, including food for infants and young children, snacks, and ramen. North Korean authorities refused to accept it, asking for rice and cement instead.
The government also plans to enter discussions on other forms of aid to North Korea through U.N. bodies such as the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and International Vaccine Institute.
A Unification Ministry official said, “At the current stage, we are discussing matters with the relevant offices and fleshing out which international bodies to use in providing assistance, when, and how much.”
But the same official added, “We are currently limiting our assistance to vulnerable groups such as infants, pregnant women, and the elderly and infirm.”
“We have no plans to provide large-scale food aid to North Korea,” the official said.
UPDATE 22 (2011-10-25): According to the Korea Times, the DPRK is requesting to meet with South Korean NGOs:
North Korea has invited a coalition of South Korean non-governmental groups to visit the impoverished state, a civic leader said Tuesday, amid a reportedly deteriorating food situation.
Park Hyun-seok, secretary general of the Korea NGO Council for Cooperation with North Korea (KNCCNK) that comprises more than 50 groups, said coalition representatives were invited to Pyongyang to discuss overall issues from Wednesday to Saturday.
Seoul, which must approve travel to the Stalinist state, denied the request, citing a lack of monitoring.
The invitation comes as the United Nations continues to call on the international community to assist the North.
On Monday, Valerie Amos, the U.N. undersecretary-general for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator said the food situation was deteriorating each year. Amos was in town after visiting the North on a fact-finding trip last year.
Amos’ comments refocused attention on how to assist the North Korean people. While the U.N. estimates a quarter of the population is in dire need of food aid, Seoul and Washington remain reluctant to send large-scale aid.
The South says the food situation does not appear to be worse than in the recent past.
The Lee administration halted massive shipments of North-bound aid in 2008, tying its provision to denuclearization steps. Two provocations by the North prompted it to cut off all assistance.
Washington has yet to announce a decision on food aid, five months after it sent an assessment team to the North, arousing speculation it was linking its provision to progress on denuclearization.
Since then, Seoul, however, has allowed civic groups to provide food including flour and says it secured an effective monitoring system for the provision. The North is widely believed to redirect aid to its military.
Such suspicions may be behind the U.N.’s difficulty in raising funds over the matter. In April, its World Food Program appealed for $218 worth of aid but only managed to secure one-third that amount.
The North has relied heavily on international aid since the late 1990s when it suffered a massive famine that killed an estimated 2 million.
Amos said roughly half of North Korean children are chronically malnourished and most people are surviving on corn and cabbage.
“Six million North Koreans urgently need food aid, but the outside world is not giving enough,” she said.
UPDATE 21 (2011-10-24): S. Korea abandons bid to send flood aid to North. According to the Straits Times (Singapore):
S. Korea abandons bid to seSouth Korea said on Tuesday it had abandoned efforts to send flood relief to North Korea after Pyongyang failed to respond to Seoul’s offer, amid disagreement over what kind of aid to send.
Despite high tensions, Seoul in August offered five billion won (S$5.5 million) in aid to Pyongyang after dozens were killed or injured by a storm and torrential rain in the North in June and July.
But the South only offered to provide items such as quilts, medicine, instant noodles and nutritious meals for children despite the North’s request for rice, cement and equipment for reconstruction.
South Korea has been reluctant to ship rice or cement for fear it could be diverted to the military. ‘Decisions have been made to end the (aid delivery) effort since there was no response from the North since then,’ a spokesman for the South’s unification ministry, which is in charge of cross-border affairs, told AFP.
UPDATE 20 (2011-9-26): Choson Ilbo issues editorial opposed to food aid:
South Korean humanitarian aid to North Korea is on hold awaiting delivery. It includes 1.4 million meals for children and infants, 300,000 cookies, 1.92 million Choco Pie snacks, and 1.6 million instant noodles worth W5 billion (US$1=W1,170). If those supplies had been delivered to the flood-stricken Hwanghae and Kangwon provinces in the North, they could have been put to good use.
South Korea sent a message to North Korea on Aug. 6 that it wanted to send the aid shipment, but the North has not responded. “This means they won’t accept it,” said a Unification Ministry official. A government source said, “They feel that the goods we are sending do not help the regime. The only things the regime wants are rice and cement.” The North in fact demanded rice and cement when Seoul announced early last month that it would be willing to send aid.
North Korea desperately needs rice to feed the 4 million people who are essential to maintaining the regime and dependent on the rationing system, such as government officials, Pyongyang residents and soldiers. The remaining 20 million ordinary people who do not get government handouts have been surviving on their own for some time now. Some say the South should give the North what it wants. But government officials say that is wrong because it can be misused.
At present, the underground economy in North Korea is thriving, threatening the basis of the North’s planned economy. It takes between 80,000 and 90,000 won to support one family in the North for a month, but the country’s state-run companies and factories pay less than W10,000 a month. North Koreans earn the rest on their own through businesses on the side or selling goods in markets.
Large food aid shipments will merely prop up a faltering regime and strengthen Kim Jong-il’s grip on power, and would probably be used to clamp down on ordinary North Koreans. Aid to the North can no longer be based on the naïve desire to help impoverished people. Things have grown much more complicated, and they require the government to think about the political, social and economic ramifications of such a move.
UPDATE 19 (2011-9-26): Vague rules for N.K. aid irk charity groups. According to the Korea Herald:
A growing number of nongovernmental charity groups here are reluctantly regrouping to gain permission for aid to North Korea largely due to the government’s inconsistent application of the rules, civic group members said Monday.
Scores of religious and aid groups belonging to the Korea NGO Council for Cooperation with North Korea sent flour to the North in July under a different council name as the government banned for several months the council’s request to ship aid.
The Seoul government, which had virtually banned flour aid to Pyongyang since the two Koreas exchanged fire near their maritime border in November, eased its policy in July and allowed the shipment by the Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation. Many of the pro-unification civic groups belonging to the coalition are actually members of the Korea NGO Council, insiders say.
“I cannot help but wonder if the government prefers some groups when approving aid,” a civic group member said on the condition of anonymity. “Wouldn’t it be bizarre if we were asked to get in the government’s good books just to send aid to North Korea?”
The unnamed group member said he even heard some group leaders obtained approval to send aid using personal ties to ranking officials in the Unification Ministry, which covers affairs with Pyongyang.
Another related official called the government’s approval standards “difficult to comprehend.”
“The Unification Ministry made us change the conditions several times based on vague standards. Because the standard changes so often, we often face difficulty in confirming the aid items and the location of shipment,” he said.
“I can understand that this has become more of a sensitive issue due to strained ties, but I still hope the government can come up with a fair, clear standard that everyone can understand,” he added.
North Korea, which has relied on outside assistance to feed its population of 24 million since the mid-1990s, has been increasing calls for international aid.
Based on its own assessment, the United Nations’ food agency had asked countries to donate 434,000 tons of food to North Korea in March, claiming food must be sent at least to women and children despite Pyongyang’s ongoing nuclear ambitions.
Notwithstanding the growing pressure, South Korea has been reluctant to resume aid, suspecting the North’s Kim Jong-il regime of stockpiling military provisions with food assistance. And relations have remained frosty since the North’s deadly attacks last year.
North Korea apparently torpedoed a South Korean warship in March last year and bombarded a border island eight months later, killing 50 South Koreans.
UPDATE 18 (2011-9-7) Seoul ready to expand economic aid projects in DPRK. According to Yonhap:
South Korea’s ruling party leader unveiled a set of proposals to help North Korea boost agricultural production and ease its chronic food shortages.
Rep. Hong Joon-pyo, chairman of the Grand National Party, floated the proposals in a parliamentary address, saying that South Korea is willing to expand irrigation facilities in the North while providing fertilizer and other agricultural equipment.
“We should make a paradigm shift in our aid to the North in a way that could create a basis for food production” by recovering the North’s agricultural productivity, Hong said in a speech at the National Assembly.
South Korea was one of the largest donors of food and fertilizer to the North, but it has stopped shipments since 2008 when conservative President Lee Myung-bak took office with a get-tough policy toward the North.
Seoul suspended almost all ties with North Korea after the sinking of a South Korean warship blamed on the North in March last year, and the North’s shelling of a South Korean border island in November.
Still, in a sign of easing tensions, South Korea’s Red Cross is preparing to send baby food to North Korea across the heavily fortified border next week as its first batch of emergency aid to North Korea’s flood victims.
In August, Seoul offered to send 5 billion won (US$4.7 million) worth of emergency relief aid, including baby food, biscuits and instant noodles, to North Korea.
Hong also suggested that two Koreas jointly operate a sericulture industry and push for contract farming projects in the North as it grows high-income crops.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, did not make any immediate comment on the proposals.
Hong made the proposals as he called for a flexible policy toward North Korea in the latest sign that Seoul wants to improve strained relations with Pyongyang.
Last week, Yu Woo-ik, the unification minister nominee tapped to lead South Korea’s policy on North Korea, vowed to explore ways to exert “flexibility” in dealing with Pyongyang.
The party leader also expressed his willingness to visit an inter-Korean industrial complex in the North’s western border city of Kaesong in what could be a symbolic gesture to support the joint venture.
Despite lingering political tensions, the two divided Koreas have continued production at the complex, an achievement of the first inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang in 2000.
UPDATE 17 (2011-8-2): The flour has been delivered. According to Yonhap:
South Korean civic groups delivered an additional 300 tons of flour to North Korea on Tuesday, following through with their pledge to send a total of 2,500 tons by the end of this month, officials said.
The Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation (KCRC), a coalition of pro-unification civic and social groups, said it sent the aid to the North Korean border city of Kaesong by land to feed poverty-stricken North Koreans in the city of Sariwon, North Hwanghae Province.
The KCRC sent its first batch of flour last Tuesday after receiving government approval for its plan to deliver a total of 2,500 tons for 82,000 North Koreans by the end of this month. It was the first time Seoul approved flour aid to the North following the communist state’s shelling of a South Korean front-line island last November.
The KCRC also said it will send a delegation of monitors to Sariwon on Wednesday to ensure the aid reaches its intended recipients in nurseries and hospitals.
UPDATE 16 (2011-8-1): Seoul has approved shipment of anti-malaria supplies to the DPRK. According to Yonhap:
South Korea said Monday it has approved a request by a civic organization to send anti-malaria supplies to North Korea.
The move would clear the way for a group called Korean Sharing Movement to deliver two pieces of ultrasonic diagnostic equipment to the North next Wednesday.
Under the current law, South Koreans are required to get the government’s endorsement before meeting with North Koreans and giving aid to the North.
According to the Choson Ilbo, the equipment will be sent to the Kaesong Industrial Zone on August 10.
UPDATE 15 (2011-7-31): According to the Korea Times, Seoul will strictly monitor the flour distribution:
South Korean civic groups providing flour aid to North Korea will have their “strongest-ever” system to monitor deliveries, an official said.
Last week, Seoul allowed three local aid groups to deliver a total of 400 tons of flour to the impoverished North, the first such assistance in eight months, on condition it be monitored properly.
To make it possible, the North agreed to complete detailed reports before and after delivery and allow the groups to make site visits to ensure provision to the intended targets, Unification Ministry spokeswoman Lee Jong-joo said.
“When we asked for reports in the past, in many cases we only received a blank page back. They agreed to provide more details this time,” she said.
The monitoring system is “not as strong as when government provides aid, but it is the strongest ever for civic-level aid.”
The groups are expected to visit the North in the coming weeks to confirm that the flour was distributed to the hospitals, nurseries, schools and other intended facilities agreed upon between the sides.
The flour deliveries were the first since November, when Seoul halted all aid and imposed a travel ban after Pyongyang shelled Yeonpyeong Island, killing four.
The Lee Myung-bak administration has since been selectively allowing groups to deliver humanitarian aid but excluded flour from the list of approved items since it is more easily diverted for military purposes. It has yet to resume any government-level aid.
It has begun widening the activities reflecting early signs of warming between the sides, however. On Monday, it allowed two groups to make flour deliveries followed by an additional one Thursday.
The North has been calling for humanitarian aid for months echoed by reports of serious food shortages and the requests could become more pressing following the torrential rain that has caused severe damage on either side of the border.
The European Union earlier this month announced it would send assistance worth 10 million euros to the North in a deal that Brussels said warranted high levels of monitoring access.
I am feeling cynical today so I just want to point out that food aid is fungible. When it arrives like manna from heaven, local officials can divert the funds they were previously required to spend on health and nutrition to “other causes”. In this sense, local officials gain budgetary flexibility and foreigners foot the bill.
UPDATE 14 (2011-7-26): The flour aid has crossed the DMZ into the DPRK. Accoridng tothe Bangkok Post:
South Korean trucks loaded with flour aid for North Korea crossed the tense border Tuesday for the first time since the communist country shelled a frontline island last year.
The shipment followed a ceremony attended by some 30 people from the Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation, a Seoul-based civic group, at the Imjingak tourist site near the border.
“We hope our humanitarian aid will lead to fresh inter-Korean ties,” council head Kim Deog-Ryong told reporters as 12 trucks carrying a total of 300 tonnes of flour headed for the North Korean city of Sariwon.
The council said it would send some 2,500 tonnes of flour including Tuesday’s shipment by the end of August if it wins approval from the Seoul government, which must by law approve all cross-border contacts.
“We believe our aid will play a positive role in creating a favourable mood for inter-Korean dialogue and easing tensions on the Korean peninsula,” it said in a statement.
As relations worsened in 2008, Seoul halted an annual government shipment of 400,000 tonnes of rice to its impoverished neighbour, although it allowed some civilian groups to keep sending aid.
According to the Hankyoreh:
The KCRC will be delivering 300 tons of flour Tuesday to day care centers, kindergartens, and pediatric hospitals in Sariwon, while the Catholic Church will be providing 100 tons of flour Thursday to the people’s hospital in North Hwanghae Province and other places.
This marks the first approval granted for a South Korean private group’s food aid to North Korea since November 2010, when 36 tons of wheat flour aid by the Korean Methodist Church were approved.
“We granted approval because our private groups and North Korea agreed last week to monitor the distribution in the field,” said a Unification Ministry official. “We will apply the same standard in looking at the other groups.”
UPDATE 13 (2011-7-19/20): The ROK is set to allow shipments of flour to the DPRK to resume. According to Yonhap:
South Korea is expected to soon allow civic groups to send flour and other supplies to needy North Koreans in what would be the first approval of flour aid since the North’s deadly shelling of a southern island last November, according to civic groups and government officials Tuesday.
The South’s Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation (KCRC), a coalition of pro-unification civic and social groups, requested last week the Unification Ministry to provide 1,035 tons of flour and two tons of infant milk formula in aid to feed some North Koreans.
And according to the Daily NK:
An official of the Ministry of Unification said on Tuesday that, “Humanitarian aid for vulnerable classes was restarted in March this year and 31 cases of aid have been allowed through.” He went on, “There is an NGO request to send flour, so we are now considering it.”
He explained, “Until now, flour has not been included in the aid items to North Korea, but it is possible to send it to vulnerable classes. After examining whether there are any problems in the transparency of distribution, we will make a decision as to whether or not to allow the aid”
Regarding the likelihood of misusing flour he said, “The government’s stance is that we must demand transparency in distribution so that it cannot be misused. We will make a decision after examining what NGOs can negotiate regarding the issue of transparent distribution within North Korea.”
With respect to a request that the South must demand monitoring at the same level as the EU demands he noted that, “It is hard for NGOs to do so because the EU has its own personnel residing in North Korea for monitoring.”
NGOs who have been allowed to send necessary goods to the North are Won Buddhism, North and South Living Together Movement, Good Neighbors, and TB Zero Movement. They are planning to send anti tuberculosis drugs, powdered milk, diapers, vitamin supplements and other items worth approximately 387,000 dollars in total. In addition, members of Won Buddhism will be visiting the North in order to discuss powdered milk and diaper aid, on the 20th.
UPDATE 12 (2011-7-14): According to the Donga Ilbo the South Koreans are shipping mosquito nets to the DPRK to prevent the spread of malaria:
Trucks with mosquito nets leave Paju, Gyeonggi, for Kaesong, North Korea, yesterday. Gyeonggi Province and Incheon city continued their efforts to prevent malaria in the North.
UPDATE 11 (2011-7-12): The Joongang Daily interviews reps from the Lighthouse Foundation:
One of the few civil groups allowed to send aid is the Lighthouse Foundation, a nonprofit and nongovernmental organization founded in May 2004. To shed some light on the current state of South Korean aid to the North, the Korea JoongAng Daily sat down with Jang Chang-man, chairperson and general secretary of the Lighthouse Foundation, to see whether he thinks civil groups will get more breathing space in the future to resume aid to the North.
Aid going from South to North is now at its lowest level in years. Humanitarian aid during the current Lee Myung-bak administration has totaled 216.6 billion won ($205 million), compared to 1.2 trillion in the Roh Moo-hyun administration and 341 billion in the Kim Dae-jung time.
The Lighthouse Foundation’s most recent project was to send 50 million won worth of goods including powdered milk, crutches and wheelchairs to North Korea for children and the disabled. On June 30, four representatives from the foundation and their sponsors travelled across the inter-Korean border to deliver the goods.
“It was a very rainy day,” said Jang, who was on the trip. “We reached Pongdong Station with the goods in two trucks and we had to cover them with sheets of plastic after we reached our destination.”
Pongdong Station, Jang explained, is often used by aid groups as a meeting point with North Korean officials. The Lighthouse Foundation team was met by representatives of the North Korean Council for National Reconciliation and Cooperation.
Their faces were familiar. When aid comes from South Korea, the North assigns the same workers to deal with the civil group’s representatives.
“Almost every time, the workers have been the same,” Jang said.
Before they actually crossed the border with the aid, the foundation had a May 31 meeting with North Korean officials to discuss what goods would be sent and how they would be distributed. Distribution has become a very sensitive issue on both sides. Seoul does not want the charity to be diverted to the North Korean military.
“The Ministry of Unification has emphasized to private groups sending aid the importance of transparency when it comes to distribution,” said Cho Il, general secretary of the Lighthouse Foundation.
Repeated questions about the distribution “irked” North Korean officials, the foundations says, and they protested during both meetings that the goods would be fairly distributed.
“You can tell that they bluff a little when they talk,” Jang said. “You can really sense their pride [during conversation].”
Upon the foundation’s request for follow-up trips to orphanages and centers for the disabled to confirm the distribution, “they asked us whether it was really necessary to visit all of the centers, as it was just powdered milk for children,” said Cho.
Cho was also informed by the North Korean officials that they “couldn’t do much else” with the goods for the disabled, meaning they would be difficult to sell on the open market. “The North Koreans are people too and wouldn’t they feed their own people?” asked Cho.
The foundation saw goods they sent over in April, such as shampoos and fabric for clothes, being used at rehabilitation centers for the disabled in the North a few weeks later.
The civil groups don’t talk politics or ideologies on their visits to the North, but they’ve noticed that their minders know a lot about them personally. They have “all personal information on us when we visit,” said Jang, who has a church following in Seoul. “They asked me to pray during our April visit before a meal,” Jang recalled. The request surprised him, and he asked whether praying was even allowed in the North.
The reply from one of the officials: “Our founder Kim Il Sung asked Billy Graham to pray before they ate when Graham was visiting North Korea.”
Asked whether he thought North Koreans had religious faith, Jang replied, “No one can know that for sure. It’s likely they’ve learned about South Korean customs because they have interacted with many of us,” said Cho. “They even talk about ideas from the bible.”
Read previous posts on South Korean aid to the DPRK in 2011 below:
UPDATE 10 (2011-5-31): Representatives from South Korean civic groups will travel to the DPRK today to meet on assistance. Accoridng to the Korea Times:
Seven representatives from the Cheontae Buddhist group and two from the Lighthouse Foundation will travel to the border town of Gaeseong for talks on distribution of humanitarian aid and measures to ensure transparency, the official said on condition of anonymity. They will return later in the day.
The Buddhist group will bring with it 13 million won worth of powdered milk, the official said.
NGOs that mobilize aid to the North have been severely restricted since last May, when the government halted almost all of their activities in the wake of Pyongyang’s sinking of the warship Cheonan.
“We are still prohibiting social and cultural exchanges in accordance with the May 24 measures,” the official said. “But we plan to gradually widen the scope of the humanitarian aid activities.”
The government has recently allowed a small amount of aid to cross the border, but drew the ire of the NGOs by not allowing them to meet with their counterparts.
UPDATE 9 (2011-5-24): National Council of Churches in Korea claims the ROK is going to sue/prosecute them for sending unauthorized aid to the DPRK (see UPDATE 7). According to the Christian Century:
The National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK) has requested its partners worldwide to pray for them and petition the Seoul government to resume its economic support to starving North Koreans.
“The NCCK sent 172 tons of flour, worth $87,000, to the North Korean Christian Federation on May 18, through the Amity Foundation in Nanjing, China,” said Rev. Heawon Chae, executive coordinator of the Ecumenical Forum for Peace, Reunification, and Development Cooperation on the Korean Peninsula. The group is affiliated with the NCCK.
“The South Korean government is now angry with the NCCK and plans to sue, claiming the move violated the Law of Civilian Cooperation and Exchange between the North and the South. The law forbids any contact with North Korea without government permission,” said Chae.
Note that as of the time of this post the ROK government has not moved to prosecuted the NCCK.
UPDATE 8 (2011-5-24): Local Governments Resume Aid to N. Korea for First Time since Yeonpyeong Shelling (Arirang News):
For the first time since North Korea shelled South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island last November, regional governments here in the South have sent the North humanitarian aid.
On Monday, Gyeonggi Province and the city of Incheon, together with civic groups, delivered 25 tons of anti-malaria supplies to the North’s border town of Gaeseong and the Hwanghae provinces through the customs office north of Seoul.
The supplies consisted of pest repellents and medicine worth 162-million won, or around 148-thousand US dollars, which will be followed by more shipments of malaria prognosis kits and preventive medicine for pregnant women in early July.
Noting that infectious diseases like malaria do not respect national borders, officials expressed hope that the latest aid will lead to inter-Korean dialogue.
UPDATE 7 (2011-5-18): The South Korean National Council of Churches is sending unapproved food aid to the DPRK. According to VOA:
South Korea’s National Council of Churches is sending tons of food aid to North Korea. But the South’s Unification Ministry says the shipment was not authorized.
Nearly $100,000 worth of flour, donated by South Korean Christians, entered North Korea on Wednesday from the Chinese border city, Dandong.
The shipment of 172 tons of food aid was not approved by South Korea’s government.
The National Council of Churches acknowledges having unauthorized contact in Beijing with North Koreans to arrange the donation.
Council spokesman Kim Chang-hyun says his group does not feel bound by political ideology.
Kim says his organization is a Christian group and the aid is purely a humanitarian gesture. He says the South Korean government’s stance does not make any sense. He says his group is doing what the government cannot do and if they try to stop it, that will only worsen inter-Korean relations.
UPDATE 6 (2011-5-4): Another private South Korean organization was allowed to deliver humanitarian assistance to the DPRK. According to the AFP:
A delegation of South Korean Buddhists visited North Korea Wednesday to deliver medical aid for children after Seoul approved the trip despite political tensions.
Ten members of the Jogye Order, South Korea’s largest Buddhist order, crossed the heavily fortified border and were headed for the Mount Kumgang resort on the east coast, said the spokeswoman for the South’s unification ministry, Lee Jong-Joo.
The Buddhists planned to deliver 100,000 tablets of vermifuge, medication used to destroy intestinal worms, during their day-long trip.
They dropped a plan for a joint Buddhist service with North Koreans following objections by the Seoul government, which must by law authorise all cross-border contacts.
Inter-Korean tensions have been high since the South accused the North of torpedoing a warship in March 2010 with the loss of 46 lives. Pyongyang denied it caused the sinking but went on to shell a South Korean island last November, killing four people.
Following the sinking, Seoul cut most of the remaining links between the two countries, but recently it has authorised a few private aid missions.
Tours by South Koreans to Mount Kumgang started in 1998 and were a significant source of hard currency for the impoverished North.
They ground to a halt in 2008 after a North Korean soldier shot dead a Seoul housewife who had strayed into a restricted military zone.
UPDATE 5 (2011-4-20): Seoul allows more private sector aid to DPRK. According to the Korea Times:
The government on Wednesday approved two more civilian groups to send humanitarian aid to North Korea, as it continues to approve aid packages after recently lifting the ban on such activities.
The Ministry of Unification announced it would allow Okedongmu Children in Korea to send 79 million won worth of medical supplies; and the Korea Association of People Sharing Love to send 17 million won worth of food for orphans.
The groups were the fifth and sixth non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to gain approval to send aid northward since Seoul last month lifted its ban, imposed after Pyongyang’s deadly shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in November.
The Ministry said it continues to review applications on a case-by-case basis, determined by need and transparency of distribution. Applications from twenty groups are still pending.
UPDATE 4 (2011-4-6): Maybe the approved donors (all mentioned below) are all that will be allowed for a while. Accoridng to the Joong Ang Ilbo:
The South Korean Ministry of Unification said yesterday it is turning down requests made by 14 South Korean relief groups to contact North Korea.
According to the ministry, the groups had planned to meet with North Korean authorities in Shenyang, China, from April 7-10 to discuss aid to the North.
“Considering the current situation between South and North Korea we feel it is inappropriate for so many of these groups to meet with one particular North Korean organ,” a Unification Ministry official said yesterday.
Intelligence reports to government bureaus, including the Ministry of Unification, indicated that a large number of tangerines from Jeju Island had been siphoned off as presents from North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to high-ranking North Korean officials.
The fruit had originally been sent to provide North Korean children with vitamin C.
Intelligence authorities also confirmed that rice, medicine and powdered milk sent to the North had been taken by the North Korean military or sold by North Korean party and military officials.
“Tangerines are the most prized of the goods sent as aid,” said one source familiar with North Korean affairs. “It has been made known through defectors and intelligence sources that [tangerines] were handed out as gifts to urge loyalty from high-ranking officials to Kim Jong-il from 2000, when Jeju tangerine aid really kicked off.
“This fact was reported to the Blue House and related government bureaus during this administration. It was also the reason why Unification Minister Hyun In-taek, who is from Jeju, turned down requests from the Jeju regional government for funding for North Korean aid tangerines,” the source added.
Jeju’s tangerine aid to the North, which began in January 1999, amounted to 48,328 tons until November 2009. With an additional 18,100 tons of carrots on top of that, 23 billion won ($21 million) was used to send the aid.
North Korea said in 2007 that the fruit had been delivered to a kindergarten in Pyongyang, but it was found to be a child-care center for the children of high-ranking government officials.
The North Korean source also said the carrots were made into juice for children of North Korean officials.
The same goes for rice and medicine sent in large amounts since the first inter-Korean summit in 2000.
According to a North Korean defectors’ testimony obtained by the JoongAng Ilbo, the defector, surnamed Lim, said that sacks of rice from South Korea labeled with red crosses were covered with North Korean sacks and sent to military bases in military trucks disguised as civilian vehicles.
Another defector who had been in the North Korean military said that medicine for civilians was sent to military hospitals.
UPDATE 3 (2011-4-4): Yonhap reports that the ROK government has approved a third shipment of aid to the DPRK. According to the article:
South Korea approved additional humanitarian aid to North Korea to help ease its chronic food shortages despite lingering political tensions on the divided Korean Peninsula, an official said Monday.
The decision marks the third instance of civic aid toward North Korean children since November when Pyongyang’s artillery attack on a frontline South Korean island killed four South Koreans.
The latest aid by two civic groups includes 176 million won (US$161,800) worth of powdered milk and porridge for North Koreans in orphanages in northeastern North Korea, Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung said at a briefing.
He said the aid packages are scheduled to be delivered to the North later this month by land and sea routes.
According to a separate AFP article, the two donors are World Vision and the Join Together Society.
UPDATE 2 (4/1/2011): According to the Choson Ilbo, the South Korean government has lifted the ban on private South Korean aid to the DPRK:
The government said on Thursday it is allowing private South Korean groups to provide humanitarian aid for children and other vulnerable people in North Korea. “We decided to let private aid groups resume humanitarian aid, which was halted following the bombing of Yeonpyeong Island in November last year,” the Unification Ministry said in a press release.
It has already authorized a shipment of W336 million (US$1=W1,097) worth of tuberculosis medication by the Eugene Bell Foundation. The medicine will be delivered to some 500 patients in six tuberculosis clinics in Pyongyang and Pyongan Province.
According to the ministry, seven aid groups have applied for permission to send W1.6 billion worth of thermal underwear, soy bean milk, bread and supplies to combat malaria.
UPDATE 1 (2011-4-1): Yonhap reports that the Korean Sharing Movement has become the second organization approved to resume humanitarian aid to the DPRK. According to the article:
South Korea on Friday approved additional humanitarian aid to North Korea after it granted such assistance by a civic group earlier this week for the first time since the North shelled a South Korean island last November, an official said.
The latest shipment approved comes from the Korean Sharing Movement and includes 30 million won (US$27,000) worth of bread, milk powder and candies for children in northeastern North Korea, Unification Ministry spokesman Chun Hae-sung said at a briefing.
ORIGINAL POST (2011-3-31): The South Korean government is allowing the Eugene Bell Foundation to resume aid to the DPRK. According to Yonhap:
South Korea on Thursday approved the first civilian humanitarian aid to North Korea since the communist neighbor bombarded a South Korean island in November, an official said.
The approval of 336 million won (US$305,000) worth of tuberculosis medicine from the Eugene Bell Foundation is the latest in a string of signs that tension is lowering on the Korean Peninsula after the shelling killed four South Koreans.
“There have been voices that at least civic groups should be allowed to send aid to North Korea. The government has taken these factors into account,” a Unification Ministry official told reporters, adding the government is looking at other requests by relief groups to send humanitarian aid to North Korea.
South Korea suspended even the most basic humanitarian assistance to North Korea after the North shelled Yeonpyeong Island in the Yellow Sea. The resumption of civilian aid comes days after the United Nations called for more than 430,000 tons of food aid to support the most vulnerable groups such as children and pregnant women in North Korea.
South Korea has provided little food assistance to North Korea since a conservative government took power in Seoul in 2008 and tied cross-border exchanges to denuclearization efforts by Pyongyang.
The stance brought the inter-Korean relations to the lowest point in years and led to the suspension of about 300,000 tons of annual rice aid Seoul provided for Pyongyang for the previous decade.
The Unification Ministry official, who spoke on customary condition of anonymity, said his government has no plans for now to fund the civilian assistance, adding that a total of seven groups are awaiting approval to send humanitarian aid to the North.
“It’s the first step in a long journey,” the official said, referring to the impact of humanitarian aid on the relations between the two Koreas, which remain technically at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce.
South Korea approved 14.7 billion won worth of humanitarian assistance by civic groups to North Korea in the period after a multinational investigation last May found Pyongyang responsible for the sinking of a South Korean warship earlier last year, according to the ministry.
The flow of aid came to a halt after the bombardment of Yeonpyeong, which the North says was triggered by a South Korean military provocation along their western sea border. The North also denies its role in the sinking of the Cheonan warship, which claimed the lives of 46 South Korean sailors.
In a development signaling a thaw in the relations between the Koreas, experts from the countries held a meeting earlier this week in a South Korean border town to share concerns over volcanic activities at a mountain on the border between China and the North.
The meeting came after colonel-level defense talks failed in early February to ease tension between the two countries, despite growing international pressure on them to improve ties and set the mood for the resumption of six-party nuclear talks on the North.
Read the dull Yonhap story here:
S. Korea approves first humanitarian aid to N. Korea since shelling