Archive for the ‘International Aid’ Category

Does North Korea need to import 641,000 tons of grain, like the UN says?

Wednesday, December 12th, 2018

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

That’s what the FAO says in a recent estimate. Here’s the Yonhap summary of the FAO report:

North Korea requires about 641,000 tons of grain this year as the impoverished communist nation produced a below-average yield, a U.N. food agency said in a recent report.

This would not be prohibitively expensive for the government to import.

The shortfall, which must be made up with foreign assistance and imports, is up from 458,000 tons estimated for 2017 in the quarterly Crop Prospects and Food Situation report released by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Full article:
N. Korea needs 641,000 tons of grain: U.N. report
Yonhap News
2018-12-12

I have my doubts about the accuracy of these estimates. It’s highly unclear how the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has conducted any recent food production surveys in North Korea to generate these new figures. Even when they did  such surveys on a regular basis, conditions were difficult as they were (at least to my knowledge) not able to freely visit farms and markets. The role of the markets in agricultural distribution is still not fully or officially acknowledged by the North Korean government. I’ve emailed FAO with questions about the basis for these numbers, and will update the post if or when they respond.

The problem is that the marketization of food supply makes it very difficult to create an accurate balance sheet for food needs and production. We don’t know precisely how much private plots produce, for example, or how much is imported outside of what the government reports to FAO. Again, all of this would be much easier to understand if more information was readily available about the FAO’s methods for this estimate.

Here is the actual report by FAO. You can find previous reports here.

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North Korea’s aid needs next year, same as this year?

Wednesday, December 5th, 2018

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Yonhap reports:

More than US$111 million will be needed for humanitarian assistance to North Korea next year amid international sanctions on the impoverished country, a U.N. report showed Wednesday.

The amount is similar to this year’s level targeted for 6 million people, according to the Global Humanitarian Overview 2019 released by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

While the number of people in need is expected to remain similar next year, sanctions imposed on North Korea will continue to constrain U.N. agencies and other humanitarian partners from providing assistance to the impoverished country, the paper said.

A total of 10.3 million people were estimated to be in need of humanitarian aid in North Korea in 2018, it said.

“While international sanctions clearly exempt humanitarian activities, they have unintentionally impacted humanitarian operations through a disruption of the banking channel, breakdown in supply chains and delays in transporting vital goods into the country,” the report said.

The funding for humanitarian aid to North Korea has decreased from $400 million in 2004 to $26.2 million as of November 2018, it said.

Article source:
U.N. says over US$111 mln required for humanitarian aid to N.K. next year
Yonhap News
2018-12-05

For the record: this is money that the North Korean regime has, but chooses not to spend on humanitarian needs.

It appears that the calculation of North Korea’s needs next year isn’t really a calculation, but just an assumption that conditions and needs will remain the same for the foreseeable future. This makes the estimate rather lacking in credibility, but given the strongly restricted access for humanitarian agencies to North Korea, they likely have little other choice but to repeat the most recent estimate.

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Humanitarian aid, luxury goods and aid diversion in North Korea

Monday, October 29th, 2018

By Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein 

North Korea imported luxury goods from China for at least $640 million, says one South Korean lawmaker. Reuters:

“Kim has bought lavish items from China and other places like a seaplane for not only his own family, and also expensive musical instruments, high-quality TVs, sedans, liquor, watches and fur as gifts for the elites who prop up his regime,” opposition lawmaker Yoon Sang-hyun said in a statement.

“With the growing loophole, Kim would be able to near his goal of neutralizing sanctions soon without giving up the nuclear weapons.”

Last year, North Korea spent at least $640 million on luxury goods from China, according to Yoon.

China does not provide breakdowns of its customs figures. Yoon compiled data based on a list of banned items crafted by Seoul in line with a 2009 U.N. resolution.

Beijing’s customs agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Beijing has said it strictly abides by international sanctions against North Korea.

The 2017 luxury trade volume was down from the 2014 peak of $800 million, but was only a 3.8 percent drop from $666.4 million in 2016, according to Yoon.

The luxury items accounted for 17.8 percent of North Korea’s entire imports from China last year which totaled $3.7 billion, Yoon said.

Purchases of electronic products such as high-end TVs made up for more than half of the total transactions, worth $340 million, followed by cars with $204 million and liquors with $35 million.

China’s trade with North Korea from January to August this year tumbled 57.8 percent from the year-earlier figure to $1.51 billion, China’s customs agency said last month.

But Yoon’s analysis also shows North Korea funneled more than $4 billion into luxury shopping in China since Kim took power at the end of 2011.

Yoon accused China of loosening enforcement of sanctions, and criticized South Korea’s recent request for U.N. and U.S. exemptions to restart inter-Korean economic cooperation.

Full article:
North Korea bought at least $640 million in luxury goods from China in 2017, South Korea lawmaker says
Hyonhee Shin
Reuters
2018-10-22

Now, none of this means that Kim Jong-un is personally swimming in a sea of handbags and TV-sets in Pyongyang. Rather, it means that North Korea – whether semi-private companies or state entities – has imported a fair amount of so-called luxury goods, despite sanctions that should prevent such imports. The term “luxury goods”, moreover, is too broad in this case and encompasses several items that wouldn’t necessarily be classified as “luxurious” by most.

At the same time, UN institutions estimate that 1/4 of children in rural North Korea are underweight. As Chosun Ilbo reports:

The wealth gap between country and city is widening. One in every four rural children is undernourished and underweight and the North has the most serious poverty issue in East Asia, the FAO said.

The wealth gap between country and city is widening. One in every four rural children is undernourished and underweight and the North has the most serious poverty issue in East Asia, the FAO said.

The proportion of underweight children in rural areas is 27 percent but only 13 percent in the cities.

Full article:
1/4 of Rural Kids in N.Korea Underweight
Kim Myong-song
Chosun Ilbo
2018-10-18

The World Food Program (WFP), meanwhile, has only received 27 percent of their funding appeal for 2018:

According to Herve Verhoosel, a spokesperson for the World Food Programme (WFP), the UN agency is staring at a massive 73 per cent shortfall in funding for 2018, hurting critical programmes such as nutritional support for children.

“We must not wait for diplomatic progress to alleviate the suffering of millions of people – funds are urgently needed now,” said Mr. Verhoosel.

“Any donation we receive today will take at least six months to reach the people who need it, due to the time it takes to purchase and transport food.”

A lack of funding risks reversing small gains in nutrition for mothers and children, made over the past four years, on the back of concerted efforts by humanitarians. Limited funding has also resulted in the suspension of operations to build resilience among disaster-hit and vulnerable communities.

WFP needs $15.2 million over the next five months to avoid further cuts to programmes which help feed around 650,000 women and children each month.

Across the country, which is officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), more than 10 million people – almost 40 per cent of the population – are undernourished and in need of support, with one in five children stunted due to chronic malnutrition.

The country is also vulnerable to natural disasters, such as drought and flooding, which affect agricultural production and livelihoods.

Article source:
Critical food programmes in North Korea can’t wait for ‘diplomatic progress’, UN food agency warns
UN News
2018-10-09

So, what is really going on here? Is it accurate to say, like the headlines imply, that North Korea’s leadership is simply buying a bunch of luxury items for millions of dollars and letting children starve in the countryside? Is there a real risk that humanitarian aid can be diverted to the army, and what does this really mean? These are separate questions, but they are interrelated in the sense that they all touch upon Pyongyang’s incentives and policy choices when it comes to its humanitarian situation.

On 38 North, the host website of this blog, Kee Park and Eliana Kim show convincingly that the fear of diversion of aid to the military is exaggerated and unfounded:

International donors and organizations have become increasingly reluctant to provide funds to North Korea. Although five countries—Switzerland, Sweden, Canada, France and Russia—have responded to the UN’s request this year, there is still a funding gap of $88.1 million. Previous donors such as United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, Ireland, South Korea and others remain uncommitted. One concern frequently cited for this reluctance is that foreign aid, including critical humanitarian aid, will either be diverted to the military or fund the nuclear weapons and missile programs or take pressure off of the regime to provide for its people.

However, these concerns are based on basic misunderstandings of how and why humanitarian assistance is provided to North Korea. Facts on the ground show that the potential for diversion is minimal and the main benefactors are generally not government or military institutions. Given the mission of UN humanitarian assistance, denying the DPRK this assistance for political purposes is both unethical and inhumane.

Full article:
The Case for Funding the UN’s Request for Humanitarian Assistance to the DPRK
Kee B. Park and Eliana E. Kim
38 North
2018-10-23

One of their most central arguments is that opportunities for diversion are too small to be meaningful. Overhead costs only make up a small percentage of total costs, and little of it could even hypothetically be diverted given that it’s all needed to run UN operations in the country. When it comes to diversion of actual food aid, the authors argue that most diversion that may occur is done towards the markets – that is, the state doesn’t actually take foodstuffs for its own use, and resources that are used elsewhere do not necessarily benefit the North Korean government.

It also seems like diversion was much more of a real concern in the 1990s and early 2000s. The worry was primarily about diversion of food aid to the military and away from society’s most needy, and it wasn’t unfounded at all.  But we have to assume that there’s been a great deal of learning done by NGOs and international institutions present on the ground. They know what they’re doing.

Today,  food aid volumes aren’t large enough to be meaningful for the army to try to divert, it seems, even if they would want to. Much of the aid, moreover, consists not of rice and other goods consumed by the general public, but likely of nutritional assistance designed to maximize the caloric intake of vulnerable groups such as children and breastfeeding mothers. We also have to remember that the chain of aid distribution and reception is long and diverse. Park and Kim argue that Pyongyang has invested much more in recent years to meet humanitarian needs. I would add that people who have worked with humanitarian aid delivery on the ground have often commented on how local officials and staff members, regardless of what one might think of Pyongyang’s intentions, are often passionate and genuine in their will and hard work to ensure that food aid reaches their local constituents and intended recipients.

However, this angle misses an important point. Diversion isn’t just about the army grabbing bags of rice intended for malnourished children, it’s also, arguably, about resources in the bigger picture. At the end of the day,  for the North Korean regime, feeding the most vulnerable is a matter of priority. We know it could, should it choose to do so. Even in years when North Korean harvests have likely been lower than this year (which we don’t yet have figures for) given the upward  trend in harvests over the past few years, the deficit left between domestic production and projected need wouldn’t have been that expensive to make up for.

Enter the luxury goods. We don’t know what proportion of the $640 million represent purchases strictly made by the state, and not by individual North Koreans or private enterprises. (The lines in this realm are rarely clear-cut.) But even low-balling it and assuming that only 1/6 is bought by the government to supply Kim Jong-un’s court and patronage networks, that’s still more than what would have been required in food imports to meet the estimated needs of the population in 2012, when, again, production was probably even lower than it is today. The UN appeal of $111 million of this year is also roughly equivalent to 1/6 of North Korea’s estimated “luxury” goods import of the past year.

And that’s just using luxury goods as an illustrative example. We could also look at any one of the massive infrastructure investments by Kim Jong-un and the renovations and new constructions of entire city blocks and streets in Pyongyang, or loft projects such as the Masikryong Ski Resort. The point is that North Korea surely has the funds to cover the humanitarian needs of the most vulnerable among its population, but chooses not to and instead counts on the UN to foot the bill for doing so. A form of “diversion”, if you will.

This is not to argue either for or against giving humanitarian aid. That the regime makes certain policy choices seems a morally problematic argument for not funding humanitarian needs. But in the long run, especially as North Korea’s economic health improves, one has to wonder whether it’s sensible for the international community to keep paying for humanitarian needs in a country whose regime could afford to do so, but makes a different policy choice, year after year.

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Russia wants sanctions on North Korea to ease

Thursday, September 27th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

I don’t think we have systematic, rigid data enough to prove that Russian sanctions implementation overall on North Korea has eased even though the Russian government’s line on easing international sanctions has gone on consistently for months. But still, it’s only logical that a government working for sanctions pressure to ease would at the very least make sanctions implementation oversight and rigor less of a priority. Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Pompeo used his opening address to swipe at permanent Security Council members Russia and China for violating U.N. sanctions involving the sale of petroleum products in excess of North Korea’s maximum 500,000-barrel allowance and for providing other forms of economic relief.

“The members of this Council must set the example on that effort, and we must all hold each other accountable,” Mr. Pompeo said, calling for an end of ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum products, linked to Chinese and Russian entities, and a halt to hosting of North Korean laborers, a reference to the thousands of workers who have been granted permission to work in Russia.

“This violates the spirit and the letter of the Security Council resolutions that we all agreed to uphold,” he told the Council.

Mr. Lavrov used his address to bash the U.S. and its allies for exerting excessive pressure on North Korea, saying it was unacceptable for sanctions to be used as a form of “collective punishment.”

Mr. Lavrov defended North Korea’s call for economic relief, saying Pyongyang has taken meaningful steps toward implementing its promise to give up its nuclear weapons and urged the U.N. Security Council to send a “positive signal” in return.

“Negotiations are a two-way street,” Mr. Lavrov said, adding that Russia would draft a proposal to allow certain economic projects in North Korea to be exempt from sanctions.

Mr. Lavrov said such projects would be in the interest of all parties and would ease the “extreme socioeconomic and humanitarian suffering” caused by the sweeping sanctions regime currently in place. He also took aim at the U.S. for implementing secondary sanctions, which he described as “illicit practices” that undermine the sovereignty of other nations.

It’ll be interesting to see what these economic projects are specifically. My bet is on infrastructure and railway renovations and possibly new construction,  or perhaps ones centering around the Rason port and special economic zone.

Full article:
Russia’s Lavrov Calls for U.N. to Ease North Korea Sanctions
Jessica Donati
Wall Street Journal
2018-09-27

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Moon: North Korea wants to join international financial institutions

Wednesday, September 26th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

NK News reports some of the comments that Kim Jong-un made to Moon Jae-in on the topic:

Speaking at a discussion hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), the Asia Society Policy Institute, and Korea Society, Moon said Seoul plans to support the DPRK’s national economic development should sanctions be lifted following “substantive denuclearization.”

“South Korea intends to take the initiative in putting its weight behind the North Korean economic development, including in the construction of infrastructure,” the South Korean President said. “I believe that will also provide fresh vitality and growth for the South Korean economy.”

The South Korean President said, however, that there would be “a number of limitations” should Seoul work to help Pyongyang’s national economic development, stressing the necessity for support from international financial institutions.

“I think international funds supporting North Korea’s infrastructure will need to be created,” Moon added. “Other international agencies including the WB (World Bank), the World Economic Forum, and the Asian Development Bank should aid North Korea.”

Pyongyang is willing to accept support from international organizations, Moon said, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

“I’ve confirmed that the North Korean side has the will to engage in reform and opening by joining several international organizations such as IMF and World Bank,” he said.

South Korean finance minister Kim Dong-yeon in May announced that Seoul was seeking shortcuts to allow North Korea to receive funding and support from International Financial Institutions (IFIs), including the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).

Full article:

North Korea wants to join IMF and World Bank, pursue economic reform: Moon
Dagyum Ji
NK News
2018-09-26

As I’ve written about elsewhere, North Korea joining the IMF and/or the World Bank would entail a number of structural reforms that should, at least in theory, improve the health of the economy. The requirements to improve transparency in economic data would also be crucial, not just for those outside of North Korea interested in its economic situation, but also for the North Korean government itself, which likely does not have a very full picture of many of the most important economic indicators in the economy.

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Red Cross warns of heatwave threatening North Korea’s food production

Friday, August 10th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Full press release:

Beijing/Geneva, 10 August 2018 – A heatwave in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) will have serious health consequences for children and elderly people unless urgent action is taken.

There has been no rainfall in DPRK since early July and temperatures are averaging 39 degrees C (102.2 degrees F) across the country. The next rain is expected in mid-August. Any threat to food security will have a serious effect on an already vulnerable and stressed population – a similar dry spell in 2017 caused a 7.2 per cent drop in food production at a vital point of the harvest cycle.

Joseph Muyambo, Programme Manager for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in Pyongyang, said: “This is not yet classified as a drought, but rice, maize and other crops are already withering in the fields, with potentially catastrophic effects for the people of DPRK.

“We cannot and must not let this situation become a full-blown food security crisis. We know that previous serious dry spells have disrupted the food supply to a point where it has caused serious health problems and malnutrition across the country.

“It’s children aged under 5 who will suffer the most. High levels of malnutrition can cause impaired physical and cognitive growth, and this is completely unacceptable. The lives of elderly people and those already suffering from illnesses are also at risk during this heatwave.”

Today, IFRC released 213,474 Swiss francs from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund to help the DPRK Red Cross to support more than 13,700 of the most vulnerable people at risk from the heatwave.

The Red Cross has deployed emergency response teams and 20 water pumps to irrigate fields in the hardest-hit areas, while staff and volunteers are helping to raise awareness of the signs, symptoms and treatment of heat-related illnesses.

Even before the current crisis, more than 10 million people – 40 per cent of DPRK’s population – needed humanitarian assistance. This worrying situation has been exacerbated by the impact of international sanctions on DPRK, which have made it difficult for aid and supplies to get into the country and to reach people who desperately need support.

The press statement can be found here, on the IFRC website.

International bodies have previously warned of looming food shortages and poor harvests in North Korea, only to later see crop yields come out larger than expected. Let’s hope that’s the case this time as well. It’s also worth remembering that it’s not bad weather per se that threatens North Korean food production, but poor institutions and bad agricultural policies that lay at the core of the problem.

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South Korean officials in North Korea for joint forest inspection

Wednesday, August 8th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Yonhap reports:

A group of South Korean officials left for North Korea on Wednesday to conduct a joint inspection of forests and protect trees from harmful insects and diseases, the unification ministry said.

The officials led by a senior forest agency policymaker crossed into Mount Kumgang on the North’s east coast, where they will jointly examine the forests there, according to the ministry.

They will return home later in the afternoon.

The one-day trip follows up on the agreement reached during working-level inter-Korean talks early last month for forestry cooperation.

They agreed to cooperate in protecting forests along the inter-Korean border and in other areas from damage caused by harmful insects and diseases.

The two Koreas conducted a similar on-site inspection in July 2015 near Mount Kumgang. Two months later, they carried out efforts to fight insects and other damage, which was said to have cost them over 100 million won (US$89,400).

Meanwhile, the North will send six transport officials to the South on Thursday to hold a meeting and discuss details related to their cooperation in modernizing and possibly connecting railways over their border, the ministry said.

The meeting, the second of its kind, will be held at the Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) office in Paju, just south of the inter-Korean border.

It came after their first meeting in Kaesong last month to discuss the outcome of an inspection of the conditions of the 15.3 kilometer-long railways from the North’s border town to the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) that separates the two Koreas.

Article source:
S. Korean officials visit N. Korea for joint inspection of forests
Yonhap News
2018-08-08

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North Korea warns of humanitarian disaster following heat wave

Thursday, August 2nd, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

Reuters:

North Korea on Thursday called for an “all-out battle” against record temperatures that threaten crops in a country already grappling with tough international sanctions over its nuclear weapons program.

North Korea on Thursday called for an “all-out battle” against record temperatures that threaten crops in a country already grappling with tough international sanctions over its nuclear weapons program.

Similar past warnings in state media have served to drum up foreign assistance and boost domestic unity.

“I think the message was a precautionary one to minimize any impact on daily life,” said Dong Yong-seung, who runs Good Farmers, a group based in Seoul, capital of neighboring South Korea, that explores farm projects with the North.

But the mention of unprecedented weather, and a series of related articles, suggest the heat wave could further strain its capacity to respond to natural disasters, said Kim Young-hee, a defector from North Korea and an expert on its economy at Korea Finance Corp in Seoul.

The warning comes after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un announced in April a shift in focus from nuclear programs to the economy, and held an unprecedented June summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in Singapore.

Since then, the young leader has toured industrial facilities and special economic zones near the North’s border with China, a move experts saw as a bid to spur economic development nationwide.

“He has been highlighting his people-loving image and priority on the economy but the reality is he doesn’t have the institutions to take a proper response to heat, other than opening underground shelters,” added Kim, the economist.

GOOD CROP CONDITIONS

Drought and floods have long been a seasonal threat in North Korea, which lacks irrigation systems and other infrastructure to ward off natural disasters.

Last year, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation warned of the North’s worst drought in 16 years, but late summer rains and privately produced crops helped avert acute shortages.

There appear to be no immediate signs of major suffering in the North, with rice prices stable around 62 U.S. cents per kg through the year to Tuesday, a Reuters analysis of data compiled by the Daily NK website showed.

The website is run by defectors who gather prices through telephone calls to traders in the North, gaining a rare glimpse into the lives of ordinary citizens.

Crops are good this year because there was little flooding to disrupt the early spring planting season, said Kang Mi-jin of the Daily NK, based in Seoul.

“They say nothing remains where water flowed away, but there is something to harvest after the heat,” Kang said, citing defectors. “Market prices are mainly determined by Chinese supplies and private produce, rather than crop conditions.”

The October harvest would reveal any havoc wreaked by the weather, Kim Young-hee added.

Full article and source:
Sanctions-hit North Korea warns of natural disaster brought by heat wave
Hyonhee Shin
Reuters
2018-08-02

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North Korean-Chinese efforts at scaling back sanctions

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

The following is from Mainichi Shimbun on a North Korean economic delegation trip to China, where it supposedly met with Chinese foreign ministry officials to discuss economic cooperation. Since I don’t read Japanese, I’ve pasted what google translate generated, mostly for my own record-keeping…

[Beijing / Urushima Koji] China has activated diplomatic offensives toward easing sanctions against North Korea. At the end of June, at the end of June, a draft statement for the media to seek relief of sanctions on the UN Security Council was distributed to the Security Council with Russia. At the working-level level in the mid-day and the morning, North Korea’s Kim Bong-tae and foreign minister of foreign affairs have accepted the visit and it seems that they are discussing economic support with a view to easing sanctions due to denuclearization.

According to a source in the middle of the morning, Mr. Kim arrived at Pyongyang airport from Pyongyang this morning. Mr. Kim is said to have been in China, who has led the economic delegation to visit. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Mr. Rikuo avoided confirming the visiting information at a regular press conference the same afternoon, but on the other hand, “While the middle morning is a friendly neighboring country, each level, normal in each field We are maintaining a regular visit. ”

Following the US-North Korea summit meeting in Singapore, China is expected to ease sanctions ahead of the United States and it is believed that it is aimed at advancing negotiations with the US with trade friction etc. advantageously by placing North Korea on the side.

 In the mid-day border zone, there were projects that could support economic assistance to North Korea in the form of technical cooperation even before the easing of sanctions, and negotiation at the worker level was necessary. The Chinese government will maintain normal interaction and cooperation with Korea (North Korea) on the premise that it does not violate international obligations (such as the Security Council sanctions) “(Mr. Shuo Qi · so = = Deputy Press Bureau Director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) and It’s a posture.

North Korea’s Kim Jung-eun, the chairman of the Korean Workers’ Party, visited a cosmetic factory in Shinwigu, North Pyongan Province, which borders the mid-day border. Prior to this, he is showing a willingness to emphasize the redevelopment of the mid-North Korean border, such as visiting the area around the economic zones in the same way that it had jointly developed with China.

Source:
North Korea seeks easing sanctions Economic support consultation?
Mainichi Shimbun
2018-07-03

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UN foresees “surge” in humanitarian aid to North Korea

Thursday, June 28th, 2018

Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein

In an interview by UN News, the UN resident coordinator for North Korea foresees that humanitarian aid will increase dramatically as relations (may) warm with the international community:

“For the UN, obviously it would mean a lot,” Tapan Mishra, the UN Resident Coordinator in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), told UN News, explaining that the 12 June summit between the leaders of DPRK and the United States not only opens up new opportunities for denuclearization and global peace, but would also help UN agencies to raise more funding to meet the country’s humanitarian needs.

He said that humanitarian funding for North Korea has declined dramatically since 2012. In 2017, only 31 per cent of the requested funding has been received. In 2018, the funding situation is even more alarming. Today, only 9 per cent or $10 million of the requested $111 million has been received to assist 6 million vulnerable people in DPRK through the 2018 Needs and Priorities Plan.

The lack of funding has already forced UN agencies to prioritize and scale down lifesaving programming. Chronic food insecurity and malnutrition remains widespread. Around 10.3 million people, or 41 per cent of the total population, are undernourished.

In this exclusive interview, Mr. Mishra talked about how the UN aid operations have continued to deliver despite the operational constraints, how economic sanctions have had unintended consequences for the lives of ordinary North Koreans and how the recent breakthrough to the political deadlock is giving rise to optimism among the people there.

Mr. Mishra leads the UN Humanitarian Country Team, consisting of six agencies on the ground – the UN Development Programme (UNDP), UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP), the UN Population Fund(UNFPA), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the World Health Organization (WHO); international non-governmental organizations and other international organizations engaged in humanitarian activities – with many other agencies supporting from outside.

Tapan Mishra: It’s a very important time. Regarding the recent summit that happened in Singapore between the leaders of DPR Korea and the US: it opens up new opportunities for global peace and hopefully stability and denuclearization. And for the UN, obviously, it would mean a lot. This is what we’ve been looking forward to: to have a diplomatic dialogue replace the possible threats of confrontation. And therefore, we hope to see a lot of support of the United Nations in DPRK to serve the people who are most needy and vulnerable, especially from a humanitarian perspective, right away.

The work of the UN could change depending on the “asks” that are made on the UN. The Secretary-General mentioned that the UN stands ready to serve. I see immediately there’ll be a huge surge in terms of humanitarian support that is needed.

As the Secretary-General has noted in his statement, relevant parts of the UN system stand ready to support this process in any way, including verification if requested by the key parties.  If there are other opportunities in the future moving from humanitarian to development, we would be able to look forward to making adjustments in our presence and our work in the future as well.

UN News: Can you describe what the UN country team does now to provide support to ordinary people there?

Tapan Mishra:At the moment, the United Nations Humanitarian Country Team in DPRK is primarily focused on providing humanitarian support to the most needy and vulnerable people. Of the 25.1 million people that are there, we are targeting in 2018 to support about 6 million people who need support – in terms of food security, nutrition, health, water, sanitation and hygiene. That’s what the UN country team and various agencies are providing in DPRK, with the support of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

UN News: There is a UN strategic framework for DPRK that looks ahead to 2021. So, does that have to be changed according to the recent evolving diplomatic situation?

Tapan Mishra:We, all UN agencies, have signed the strategic framework with the Government of DPRK for the five years from 2017 to 2021. This strategic framework is the equivalent of the UN Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) in a normal country. The situation in DPRK is quite unique. We could expand from humanitarian to possibly development in the future when the opportunity is right.

The strategic framework is more towards food and nutrition; security; social development services, which includes health, education, water, sanitation, hygiene, et cetera; and resilience sustainability, which includes energy, environment, climate change and disaster risk management.

So, when this scenario changes in terms of moving away from the humanitarian, which is our primary work currently, it may need to be adapted accordingly.

UN News: Do you mean that the recent political situation will be reflected on the strategic framework in the future?

Tapan Mishra:It depends. As you see, the Secretary-General has very clearly stated that the relevant UN agencies stand ready to serve, whether it’s for the verification, or for other support required. If there are adjustments that need to be made, it will be made at the appropriate time.

UN News: Can you describe what life is like for average citizens in North Korea?

Tapan Mishra:The humanitarian situation remains grim for millions of civilians in the country. There are children who are affected by acute malnutrition. Chronic food insecurity and malnutrition remains widespread, driven by the limited availability of arable land – only 17% of land is arable – lack of access to modern agricultural equipment and fertilizers, and recurrent natural disasters. Chronic malnutrition is devastating to young children. A staggering number of children – over a quarter (27.9%) of children under-five –  are stunted.

This will affect them for the rest of their lives. And we have programmes for supporting kindergartens, children, infants, as well as pregnant and lactating mothers, the elderly, and people with disability. So, for them, life is challenging and difficult. There are gaps that need to be met with humanitarian assistance. Therefore, we are – you may have seen the needs and priorities document for 2018 – looking for support from donors to provide us financial assistance to be able to provide humanitarian aid to the people in need.

UN News: How much have economic sanctions affected everyday life in North Korea?

Tapan Mishra:I have raised this issue, not only with the Chair of the UN Sanctions Committee (1718 Committee) that there are unintended consequences of the sanctions that are being seen in terms of the work that we do in the UN and other humanitarian agencies. And we have received good support from the Committee to look into these issues.

UN News: Looking over the last two decades, how has the UN humanitarian operation coped with the fluctuating political situation on the Korean Peninsula?

Tapan Mishra:That’s a very insightful question. In the last two decades, there has been ups and downs. Right now, we’re on a down. In the last three years, the receipt of humanitarian funding has been between only 20 and 30 per cent of the funding that we have requested. And this year, despite all these positive political directions, the funding currently is only at 9 per cent of the $111 million we are seeking.

UN News: So, do you expect that if the positive political development continues, more humanitarian funding will come?

Tapan Mishra:I really hope so. Now that the positive political doors are opening, the summit that perhaps opened the door of complete and verifiable denuclearization, we are hoping that Member States will support the UN and other agencies in providing humanitarian support to the most vulnerable population. And again, hopefully, that will lead to a new increase in the humanitarian support that we are receiving.

UN News: How does a deterioration in the political situation impact the humanitarian operation?

Tapan Mishra:Two or three things. First, humanitarian funding was very badly affected. That really impedes our ability to provide the support needed. So, agencies had to cut down on their programmes because there has been no funding. Second, we’ve had unintended consequences of sanctions. Even humanitarian aid has got affected. Third, the banking channel that we had for getting money in the country completely collapsed. We don’t have an option right now and we are looking for one. So, these three have been major challenges for us if we are to be able to provide the humanitarian assistance in the most effective manner.

UN News: Have you seen any changes in the level of cooperation or contact you have with the Government since last year?

Tapan Mishra: Over the past years, the UN and partners have invested heavily in building confidence and understanding by the government for humanitarian actors and humanitarian interventions. Agencies work according to “no access, no aid”, an approach which is understood and accepted by the authorities. This continued, principled and robust engagement has translated into better access, better monitoring, better programming, and better cooperation.

UN News: Have you seen any optimism among the ordinary North Koreans recently?

Tapan Mishra: Certainly. I haven’t been to DPRK after the summit but I will be going there soon. But what I hear from people, and I’ve been noticing there is a visible optimism and I’m sure everybody is looking forward to moving towards a better and more prosperous future with peace and stability ahead. So, I’m sure there is optimism, not only among the people in DPRK, but among the people in the world. So, this is an era of new peace and stability on the Peninsula, which will bring in hopefully global peace and development.

UN News: Any message you’d like to convey?

Tapan Mishra:The UN has been working there for a long time and, despite all the challenges, we have been serving on the mandates that we’ve had. We stand ready on the ground to do more as needed and we look forward to the support of all Member States in carrying out our mandate, by helping us get more humanitarian funding support, by helping us ensure that the unintended consequences of sanctions is reduced or completely overcome. And hopefully, peace and development will come in the future on the Peninsula. And hopefully, we will have a much better situation globally.

Article source:
INTERVIEW: UN’s top official in North Korea foresees ‘surge’ in humanitarian aid
UN News
2018-06-28

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