Food aid update

From Yonhap:

A U.S. human rights organization on Thursday urged North Korea to allow international monitoring of food distribution, saying its recent policy changes on outside aid may cause renewed hunger among its people.

Recent decisions by Pyongyang to suspend the operations of the World Food Program in the country and revive the food rationing system may leave many in hunger, said Washington-based Human Rights Watch in a press conference in Seoul.

“North Korea has gone back to precisely the same place, when the famine began,” said Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director of the organization, referring to the mid 1990s in which two million North Koreans supposedly died of hunger.

North Korea adopted a series of policies last year that irked international human rights organizations. It asked the U.N. relief agency to end emergency food aid and its monitoring in September and then announced the reinstatement of the public distribution system, in which the government provides rationing of food and equipment to individuals.

Citing interviews with North Korean defectors and World Food Program officials, the rights watchdog said the food rationing system operates on a priority basis, feeding Workers’ Party members and military and police officers while leaving many ordinary people in hunger.

Despite its improved harvest in recent years, North Korea still suffers from a chronic food shortage, it said, with the country needing approximately 6 million tons of grain a year to provide basic nutrition for its 22 million people.

The North’s grain production hovers at 4.5 million tons and it receives 750,000 tons in aid from South Korea and China, but still falls short of demand, the organization said, citing statistics from the South Korean government.

It urged Seoul to strengthen the monitoring in the North to make sure the needy people get the food.

South Korea shouldn’t “simply passively accept that it is inevitable that North Korea cannot be influenced,” Malinowski said.

North Korea experts in Seoul, however, said the recent decisions by the communist country suggest it is making efforts to stand on its own rather than depend on emergency donations. And the revival of the public distribution system illustrates its improved food situation, they said.

“When the rationing system was reduced (in the late 1990s) it was because the government didn’t have food to distribute. Now that it has expanded the rationing system, it is in a better situation,” said Chon Hyun-joon, senior research fellow with the Korea Institute for National Unification, a public research body on North Korea in Seoul.


Comments are closed.