Archive for the ‘Mercy Corps’ Category

US offers flood aid to DPRK (2010)

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

According to the Choson Ilbo:

The United States is offering $750,000 in emergency aid to North Korea to help aid recovery from devastating floods.

The U.S. Special Envoy for North Korea Human Rights, Robert King, told VOA Wednesday that the money will be given to three U.S. non-governmental organizations — Samaritan’s Purse, Global Resource Services, and Mercy Corps.

He said the organizations will use the money primarily for medical supplies and will fly the aid into Pyongyang beginning later this week.

Read the full story here:
U.S. Offers Flood Aid to N.Korea
Choson Ilbo


Awareness of outside world growing in DPRK

Tuesday, June 15th, 2010

According to National Public Radio:

Conventional wisdom holds that the people of North Korea are trapped in a world of rigid conformity, totalitarian discipline and complete isolation from the rest of the world.

But increasingly another picture is emerging: North Koreans are far more aware of the outside world, according to evidence provided by North Korean refugees, South Korean humanitarian aid workers, Chinese traders and others.

It is rare for an American to travel to North Korea, and even rarer for an American to spend much time there. Steven Linton has done both.

“In general I think North Koreans are clearly growing in their awareness of the rest of the world. I think there’s no question about that,” Linton says.

Linton has been going to North Korea for many years. He is engaged in a campaign to combat tuberculosis there, and he says North Koreans are soaking up information about the rest of the world.

“One of the most underrated realities about North Korea is its very dynamic relationship with China, and the amount of information that flows across that border. Students; business people; it’s a continuous stream of traffic,” he says.

With that traffic come thousands of DVDs, CDs, cellular telephones, used computers and videotapes — many of them from China and South Korea.

Traders Fill Information Gap

Kim Heung Kwang came to South Korea from the North six years ago and created a group called North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity. He has his own network of people in both Koreas. Kim says market-oriented traders and smugglers in the provinces of China bordering on North Korea are filling the information gap.

He says that many Koreans in China make a living by setting up satellite TVs at their homes to receive South Korean media. Then, they burn CDs and DVDs of the programs and sell them to North Koreans — for a profit, not propaganda.

These media are so prevalent inside North Korea now that knowledge about South Korea has become commonplace, says Yoo Ho-yeol, a professor at Korea University in Seoul. Yoo regularly talks to students and refugees from North Korea.

“They are telling us that those people living along the border area, all of them know well about South Korean society or daily life,” he says.

Groups such as North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity also have managed to send cell phones across the Chinese border, and now thousands of people can call to South Korea, via cell phone systems in China, to provide news of developments inside North Korea. And they can receive text messages, photos and music via cell phones.

It was through channels such as these that news leaked out of North Korea late last year of the disastrous currency reform the government had imposed and widespread resistance to it.

Impossible To Stop Flow Of News

It is still not risk-free to possess these materials. But, says Kim of North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity, while possessing a videotape from South Korea in years past might bring a three-year prison or labor camp sentence, now the materials are so common that local authorities appear to understand they’ve already lost this battle.

“The efforts are ongoing to inspect and collect everything that they can find. But because the demand is so big and the activities are [going on in the] black market, the government is feeling that it is fundamentally impossible to eliminate all sources. So I feel that they are just going through the motion now,” he says.

And there is word of mouth. Humanitarian workers from South Korea who have brought medicine or food to North Korea say simple conversation can be transformative.

Hwang Jae-sung has done agricultural work in North Korea for an aid group from the South called Korean Sharing Movement.

“They saw what we were, and what we do and what we brought. And they go back to [their houses] and they just tell their wives and children and so on. The word spreads, a thousand miles,” Hwang says.

Sanctions Undermine Efforts

Ironically, the policies of the United States can get in the way of the freer flow of information. Some economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. have created problems for the North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity group. It has been sending USB drives that carry books, news articles, music, teaching materials and computer games to North Korea.

But North Koreans need more computers to use them, says Kim, the group’s director.

“The prerequisite for this program is enough computers in North Korea. But there are several regulations in place blocking our efforts. So I think that the United States needs to change its regulations on these matters,” he says.

The number of used computers from South Korea and Japan is enormous. But sanctions make it more difficult to get even these computers and more information into North Korea.

Read the full story and hear audio below:
Awareness Of Outside World Growing In North Korea
National Public Radio
Mike Schuster


DPRK scales back humanitarian work

Monday, March 16th, 2009

Below are excerpts from the Financial Times:

Pyongyang has told Washington that United Nations World Food Programme [WFP] staff will be barred from distributing food aid after March. The Stalinist regime has also told US non-governmental organisations to leave this month, and rescinded permission for other humanitarian groups to visit, the Financial Times has learned.

In an agreement last year, the US agreed to provide North Korea with 500,000 tonnes of food. The WFP was responsible for distributing 400,000 tonnes, with a consortium of NGOs led by MercyCorps in charge of the remainder.

In recent months, however, after North Korea refused to allow sufficient numbers of Korean speakers to join the WFP team, Washington halted food supplies.

Pyongyang has responded by barring food aid workers from operating in the country. So far, the US has supplied 100,000 tonnes to the WFP, and another 70,000 tonnes to the NGOs, which has not been completely distributed.

A US State Department official said that while the US was satisfied with the number of Korean speakers who were allowed to join the NGOs, it was unhappy that the same situation was not true for the WFP, which is responsible for distributing 80 per cent of the food. In addition to MercyCorps, the other NGOs are World Vision, Global Resource Services, Christian Friends of Korea and Samaritan’s Purse.

The official said the US was also responding to North Korea blocking aid workers from conducting a nutritional survey, which was included in the agreement.

“US aid workers have enjoyed tremendous co-operation in the countryside from North Koreans and we hope the DPRK government in Pyongyang will allow them to continue to feed the hungry,” said a Senate aide involved in North Korean issues. “Food aid should be separated from politics.”

Even before the North Korean threat, WFP had been forced to scale back operations because of the break in US funding. The WFP has only received 4.5 per cent of its $504m budget for North Korean operations. A WFP spokesperson said 4.5m of the 6.2m North Koreans targeted under the programme were not receiving assistance as of December.

“WFP hopes that the US will review the humanitarian situation and that food shipments will resume soon,” the spokesperson added.

North Korea recently informed the US that Eugene Bell, World Care and Kirk Humanitarian – three other US NGOs operating in North Korea – would not be allowed to make visits that were already approved. Pyongyang told the US that the planned visits were being cancelled because of “recent developments”.

Nancy Lindborg, president of MercyCorps, said North Korea sometimes temporarily blocked NGOs from visiting. However, she added that she was “hopeful and confident” that the visits would resume. She said her consortium had a “good working relationship” with its North Korean partners.

Read the full article here:
N Korea-US distrust halts food aid
Financial Times
Demetri Sevastopulo

Below: State Department Briefing, Mercy Corps Press Release
US State Dept press briefing
Robert Wood, Acting Department Spokesman
March 17, 2009

QUESTION: Do you have anything to say or to confirm about North Korea cutting off or saying it does not want U.S. food aid —
MR. WOOD: Yeah.
QUESTION: — and kicking out U.S. NGOs over an accelerated timeline?
MR. WOOD: Yeah, yeah. North Korea has informed the United States that it does not wish to receive additional U.S. food assistance at this time. And we will work with U.S. NGOs and their North Korean counterparts to ensure that food that’s already been delivered – excuse me, food that’s already in North Korea is distributed to the intended recipients. And one of the things I also want to mention is that we have aimed to implement the U.S.-DPRK food aid program according to the terms agreed to by the United States and the North Korean Government in May 2008.
And I will give you just a breakdown in terms of the amount of food aid that we have provided. The U.S. has delivered 169,000 metric tons of U.S. food to North Korea in 2008 and 2009. The last shipment of U.S. food aid, which was nearly 5,000 metric tons of vegetable oil and soy blend, arrived in North Korea in late January and is being distributed by U.S. NGOs.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) of that?
MR. WOOD: Of which one, the 5,000 metric tons? Yeah, I am sorry. I don’t have any – any value here. We can try and get that to you in the Press Office.
QUESTION: Could you say when you were notified of this and how you were notified?
MR. WOOD: I don’t know, but it was obviously communicated to us by the North Koreans. I don’t know how that was done, whether it was done through the New York channel or some —
QUESTION: (Inaudible)?
MR. WOOD: Yeah, I just – I don’t know.
QUESTION: Last week maybe?
QUESTION: Just a clarification?
MR. WOOD: Yeah.
QUESTION: You said it’s being distributed by U.S. NGOs or UN NGOs?
QUESTION: Of the (inaudible) metric tons, what is it of? Is it grain? Is it – what is it?
MR. WOOD: Well, I’ll have to get the specifics on it, but I refer to our last shipment of U.S. food, which was, you know —
QUESTION: Oil and soy blend.
MR. WOOD: That’s right. I don’t have that breakdown. We can certainly try and get that for you, Sue.
QUESTION: (Inaudible), are you disappointed in this?
MR. WOOD: Of course. Absolutely. I mean, this was a program intended to try to help get food to needy North Koreans, and we’re obviously disappointed in that. This, you know, does not help us implement this agreement that we reached with the North back in 2008, so —
QUESTION: Well, not only does it not help you implement it, it kind of – I mean, are they abrogating the agreement?
MR. WOOD: Well, I don’t have the actual text of the agreement, so I can’t say with absolute specificity that they’re in violation of it. But we have an agreement to try to deliver, you know, this food assistance, and now the North is saying they do not want to receive any more assistance. So you know, we’re concerned about it.
But the food that is there right now in North Korea, we’re going to work with U.S. NGOs, with their North Korean counterparts, to make sure that this assistance gets to the people who —
QUESTION: Can you be a little bit more explicit about why you’re concerned about it, why you’re disappointed?
MR. WOOD: Well, I mean, clearly this is food assistance that the North Korean people need. That’s why we’re concerned. You know, this humanitarian assistance that we provide to the North has nothing to do with the Six-Party Talks. This is about our true humanitarian concern for these people. And as you know, the food situation in North Korea is not a good one, and so we’re very concerned about it.
QUESTION: Did they give you any explanation why they won’t – they didn’t want any more?
MR. WOOD: They have just said that they do not want to receive any additional food assistance at this time. That’s about as far as they went.
QUESTION: But no reason was provided at all? Just a one-sentence note you got?
MR. WOOD: I mean, it’s – I don’t know if it was one sentence that was given to us, but you know, that was the bottom line. And that’s the most important part of this.
QUESTION: And when did they inform you?
MR. WOOD: It was, I think, over the last couple of days, I believe.
QUESTION: Robert, do you know what the accelerated timeline for the withdrawal of the NGOs will be?
MR. WOOD: I don’t know.
QUESTION: It was supposed to be the end of May.
MR. WOOD: Yeah, I don’t know. Again, probably the best folks to address that are the North Koreans.

Press Release by relief organizations:

March 19, 2008                                                                     


Contacts:  Joy Portella, +1.206.437.7885, [email protected]

March 19, 2009—The following is a statement issued by the NGO Partners that have been distributing food aid in the DPRK through a program supported by the U.S. Agency fro International Development (USAID). The NGO Partnership is led by Mercy Corps, co-led by World Vision, and includes Christian Friends of Korea, Global Resource Services and Samaritan’s Purse:

This week, North Korean authorities have asked us to close the USAID-supported food assistance program that we have been operating since June 2008. Our joint team, dedicated to this program, will leave the DPRK by the end of March.
We are saddened by this decision, but are very proud of what the program has accomplished.  Working closely with our North Korean partner, we have ensured that food reached almost one million vulnerable children, pregnant and nursing mothers and the elderly.
Each of our organizations has worked in the DPRK for more than a decade. We remain committed to assistance in that country, and our individual, on-going programs focused on health, water, sanitation and agriculture will continue as before.
The NGO Food Assistance program is part of a larger 500,000 metric ton initiative supported by USAID in which the World Food Program was to distribute 400,000 metric tons of food and the NGO Partners were to distribute 100,000 metric tons.  In the ten months of this program, 169,000 metric tons of food has been delivered to the DPRK, of which the U.S. NGOs have brought in 71,000 metric tons of food.  This food from NGOs has benefitted more than 900,000 people in the two north west provinces of Chagang and North Pyongan.
This has been a model program with unparalleled monitoring cooperation to ensure that food gets to those most in need. Our in-country staff of 16 people has worked closely with our North Korean partners.
The NGO food assistance program was scheduled to run until the end of May 2009. Until the end of the month, we will work with our North Korean partners to ensure a proper close-out.
We remain committed to helping the people of the DPRK to overcome hunger and improve their lives. The food program resulted from the tremendous humanitarian need in the DPRK. We will continue to work—as individual agencies and in cooperative partnerships—to address these needs. We hope the success of this program will serve as a model for the future.


IBEW doing charity work in North Korea

Sunday, November 23rd, 2008

ibew.jpgPutting the “International” into the “International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers,”  Dan and Dennis McCarty, retired from Local 48, traveled with Mercy Corps to Haeju, North Korea, to install electrical systems in three area hospitals:

The men did all pre-planning and preparation work by working from photographs. But that wasn’t the only obstacle the twin brothers had to overcome.

“We experienced low quality electrical power and long hours without electricity,” said Dan McCarty. The language barrier also proved to a challenging, as well as working with a limited number of tools, materials and equipment.

“If you don’t have it with you when you arrive, your only option is to improvise while upholding safe practices,” said Dennis McCarty.

But the brothers didn’t let anything stand in their way. The project was pronounced a resounding success by North Korean’s hospital directors. All three power systems are operational and are currently in service.

Read the full story here:
Twin Brothers Light Up Hospital
IBEW Local 48


US sends fourth aid shipment

Thursday, October 16th, 2008

UPDATE: According to Yonhap, the aid shipment has left Virginia:

The latest food aid from the United States to North Korea, comprised of 25,000 tons of corn and other grains, has made its departure from the U.S. state of Virginia, a U.S. radio station reported Saturday.

The Mary-Ann Hudson, a U.S. cargo vessel carrying 20,000 tons of corn and 5,000 tons of beans, left from Norfolk, Virginia, on Friday and is scheduled to arrive at North Korea’s western port of Nampo on Nov. 18, Radio Free Asia reported, citing a spokesperson of World Vision.

In June, the U.S. started shipping the first batch of some 500,000 tons of food aid, which it pledged to deliver to the North over a year-long period, through the World Food Programme (WFP).

Previous shipments were organized by the WFP, but the latest round is conducted jointly by relief organization World Vision and four other relief agencies, according to the spokesperson.

Since the late 1990s, when an estimated 1-3 million North Koreans starved to death, the North has prioritized its agricultural sector while accepting foreign aid to help feed its population of 23 million people. (Yonhap, Latest U.S. grain shipment to N.K. departs, 10-19-2008)

ORIGINAL POST: Press release from Mercy Corps (10/16/2008):

A fourth shipment of U.S. food aid for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea sails this week to be distributed by five humanitarian agencies delivering urgent assistance to North Koreans suffering from severe food shortages. The commodities are scheduled to arrive before winter.

More than 894,000 of North Korea’s most vulnerable people – mainly children, pregnant and nursing mothers, and the elderly – will receive daily rations from this shipment of 25,060 metric tons of bulk corn and soy. The distributions are conducted in two North Korean provinces, led by Mercy Corps with World Vision as co-lead. Samaritan’s Purse, Global Resource Services and Christian Friends of Korea are the partner agencies.

“This new shipment of food will bring critical sustenance to many hungry people in North Korea,” said Nancy Lindborg, president of Mercy Corps. “We are very pleased with our success in getting food to needy people for the past few months, and are confident that efficient food distributions will continue into the winter.”

On arrival at the western port of Namp’o in the latter half of November, the food will be rationed to recipients through public distribution centers, orphanages, school, hospitals and nurseries in Chagang and North Pyongan Provinces. The program, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) office of Food for Peace, is the first U.S. food assistance program for North Korea since 2000.

“With North Korea’s people in a precarious situation facing low food stocks and the onset of a harsh winter, our primary concern is the country’s most vulnerable groups, children and mothers especially,” said George Ward, senior vice president of international programs for World Vision in the U.S. “We are moving urgently to ensure this assistance reaches those in most need at a critical time.”

The NGO partnership is on track to distribute 100,000 metric tons of the food aid during the year-long program, reaching 895,000 people, while the World Food Programme (WFP) is distributing another 400,000 metric tons in U.S. assistance. This week’s shipment is the first one entirely allotted for the NGO partnership to dispense.

The lack of food in North Korea became severe this year as floods devastated harvests, China erected barriers to food exports, and prices skyrocketed globally for staples such as rice and maize. In a June 2008 assessment, a team of experts from the partner agencies confirmed findings of food shortages and acute needs in North Korea. Malnourishment was prevalent, rations were reduced, and food stocks were dwindling. Separately, the WFP projected a shortage of 1.66 million metric tons of food, relative to the population’s needs.

The U.S. food assistance program includes clear provisions for monitoring distributions and conducting ongoing needs assessments. The partnership of humanitarian agencies has a staff of 16 based in the DPRK for the duration of the program to monitor activities continually and conduct random visits to distribution points.


Aid Agencies to Deliver U.S. Food Assistance to DPRK

Sunday, July 6th, 2008

UPDATE: Below is a list of organizations that are distributing US aid in the DPRK:

Mercy Corps works amid disasters, conflicts, chronic poverty and instability to unleash the potential of people who can win against nearly impossible odds. Since 1979, Mercy Corps has provided more than $1.5 billion in assistance to people in 106 nations.

World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organisation dedicated to working with children, families and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice. We serve all people, regardless of religion, race, ethnicity or gender.

Samaritan’s Purse provides immediate, no-red-tape response to the physical and spiritual needs of individuals in crisis situations, especially in locations where few others are working. The organisation is working in more than 100 countries to provide aid to victims of war, disease, natural disaster, poverty, famine and persecution.

Global Resource Services is dedicated to going beyond charity to find real solutions to complex global crisis where peace and security are in jeopardy. Our mission is driven by an end vision of reconciliation. Relationships, respect and reconciliation are the common threads that empower our cause.

Christian Friends of Korea (CFK) has been working since 1995 to bring hope and healing to the people of North Korea. To date, CFK’s efforts to build trust and relationships and meet real human needs at tuberculosis and healthcare facilities have resulted in the delivery of over $35 million USD in humanitarian assistance to the DPRK.

From the World Vision web page:

Five aid agencies today announced that they have signed an agreement with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to deliver U.S. government food assistance to North Koreans suffering from severe food shortages. The partnership will distribute 100,000 metric tons of food to more than a half-million needy people over a twelve-month period.

Mercy Corps is leading the programme, with World Vision as co-lead, pending final agreement. Partner agencies are Samaritan’s Purse, Global Resource Services and Christian Friends of Korea. Daily rations will be provided for approximately 550,000 vulnerable people – mostly children, the elderly and pregnant and nursing women – in two North Korean provinces. The programme, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) office of Food for Peace, is the first U.S. food assistance programme for North Korea since 2000.  

From the Mercy Corps web site (July 1, 2008):

Mercy Corps is taking the lead in a yearlong distribution of 100,000 metric tons of food to quell rampant hunger in North Korea.

We have been asked by the U.S. government to spearhead a partnership of five non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that will implement a major food assistance program for North Korean families. Distribution of the food aid – provided by the U.S. government and funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Food for Peace program – is taking place over the course of twelve months beginning in June 2008. Alongside our partner organizations, we will distribute food such as cereal grains, vegetable oils and beans through schools, hospitals, orphanages and other institutions.

Our food distribution programs are expected to reach more than 550,000 people – primarily children, the elderly and the extremely poor – in two provinces. We will have staff residing in North Korea to visit families, monitor distribution and assess impact.

Since 1996, Mercy Corps has promoted cross-cultural exchange and worked with the country’s vulnerable families and communities to help meet health and nutritional needs, as well as collaborate on long-term agricultural and economic solutions. Our late co-founder, Ells Culver, reached out to the North Korean people in the aftermath of drought, flooding and food shortages. That cooperation was strengthened last year when we hand-delivered $13 million of medicines for flood survivors, and earlier this year when we received a USAID grant to install emergency generators and medical equipment in six county hospitals.

Your gift to our Global Food Crisis fund will help us deliver assistance to even more families in some of the world’s most challenging places.

To learn more, visit their website (link).

To make a donation, click here.

To read the press release, see below:
Aid Agencies to Deliver U.S. Food Assistance to North Koreans
Reuters Alert Net
Contact: Geraldine Ryerson-Cruz, +1.202.572.6302, [email protected]


U.S. medical aid arrives in flood-stricken N. Korea: report

Friday, August 31st, 2007


North Korea’s foreign minister Friday met with a U.S. delegation bringing emergency medical supplies to help North Korean victims of recent floods, the North’s official news outlet said.

The reclusive country has appealed to the international community for assistance to cope with massive flooding caused by heavy downpours that left at least 600 people dead or missing and about 100,000 people homeless in early August. The United Nations is seeking US$14 million to provide North Korea with food, medicine, drinking water and other emergency goods.

“Foreign Minister Pak Ui-chun met with guests from the United States who visited with emergency medical aid equipment donated by the U.S. administration and the non-governmental organization Samaritan’s Purse with regard to flood damage at the Mansudae Assembly hall,” said the one-sentence report carried by the Korean Central News Agency. It did not identify the U.S. guests.

Washington has so far pledged US$100,000 for the U.N. initiative, equally distributing the funds to two non-governmental relief organizations, Mercy Corps and Samaritan’s Purse, to deliver emergency aid to North Korea.

The heaviest rain in 40 years swept North Korea, which is poorly equipped to cope amid wide-spread deforestation. The severe damage caused the second inter-Korean summit to be postponed from late August to early October.


US provides 100,000 dollar flood aid to North Korea

Friday, August 17th, 2007


The United States is providing 100,000 dollars in humanitarian aid to flood-stricken North Korea, the State Department said Friday.

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) would provide 50,000 dollars each to two US non governmental organizations operating in North Korea — Mercy Corps and Samaritan’s Purse, department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

“The intention is that the money would be used to provide blankets, shelter materials, water containers and other supplies to those in need,” he told reporters.

Almost 300 people were dead or missing in the North Korean floods, according to an aid agency quoting official figures in the nuclear-armed hardline communist nation.

Official media in the reclusive state has painted a grim picture of inundated crops and homes, flooded factories and mines and washed-out roads.

UN agencies said on Friday that half of North Korea’s main health centres have been submerged by floods and warned that the situation in the country could deteriorate unless aid arrives rapidly.

The United States, together with China, Russia, Japan and South Korea, have promised to provide the North Koreans aid and security and diplomatic guarantees if it scraps its nuclear weapons program.

But any flood relief provided by the United States would not be linked to a planned gradual shipment of one million tonnes of fuel or its equivalent to North Korea if it completely dismantles its nuclear weapons program, McCormack had said.

North Korea has already got 50,000 tonnes of fuel aid for closure of its key nuclear reactor under the six-party nuclear talks.


North Koreans make rare visit to Oregon

Saturday, March 3rd, 2007

Associated Press (Hat tip DPRK Studies)

Three North Koreans ended a rare and discrete visit to Oregon this week after visiting Oregon State university scientists, orcharists in the Hood River area, the Nike campus, Gov. Ted Kulongoski and attending a Trail Blazers basketball game.

Because of sensitive six-way talks on North Korea’s nuclear program, Mercy Corps, which hosted the visit, declined to release the officials’ names.

Portland-based Mercy Corps is among a handful of humanitarian agencies running programs involving North Korea, which has no diplomatic relations with the United States.

Over 12 years, Mercy Corps has supplied fish and fruit trees for farm projects in North Korea, which has chronic food shortages.

The North Koreans, representing Mercy Corps’ main partner organization, the Korean American Private Exchange Society, arrived Tuesday and were to leave Saturday.

Mercy Corps President Nancy Lindborg said the three visited OSU, which has made scientists available to advise on the agricultural projects. On the way back they met with Kulongoski. They visited orchards in the Hood River area Friday.

At Nike headquarters near Beaverton, they met with managers who gave a presentation on e-commerce, an Internet activity with undetermined relevance in a socialist nation with limited Web penetration.

“I don’t have a specific point of view to share on their visit and the possible opportunities North Korea may present,” said Bob Applegate, a Nike spokesman.

The visit was perhaps the 10th in a series of low-profile North Korean delegations here over the years, Lindborg said. In North Korea, she said, “Oregon is very well-known.”

At the Rose Garden on Thursday the visitors watched the Trail Blazers dismantle Charlotte.

“They’re fans,” said Lindborg, who also attended the game. “Two of them actually play basketball.”


Wayward Food Aid in North Korea?

Tuesday, September 13th, 2005

US News and World Report
Thomas Omestad

It is a question that policymakers in the Bush administration, other governments, and private relief agencies have pondered for years: How much of the considerable international food aid sent to hungry North Korea has been diverted away from its intended beneficiaries? The debate is not likely to end, but a significant study released this month by the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea takes a stab at an answer: 25 to 30 percent of it.

However, say the report’s authors, that diversion may not be the disaster it initially seems to be. Much of the redirected aid appears to move back into North Korea’s nascent food markets, where it is available to people who have earned the outside income to afford it. The diversions do not appear to be centrally directed but rather reflect the actions of North Korean agencies and people who are seeking financial gain, say the report’s authors, Stephan Haggard, director of the Korea-Pacific Program at the University of California–San Diego, and Marcus Noland, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Institute for International Economics.

The 56-page report (“Hunger and Human Rights: The Politics of Famine in North Korea”) is released at a sensitive moment: Talks among six nations, including North Korea, aimed at persuading the North to abandon its nuclear weapons programs are scheduled to resume today. Pyongyang delayed the resumption of the talks by some two weeks, saying it was reacting to the naming of a U.S. official to focus on human rights problems in the North and to U.S.-South Korean military exercises. The regime will undoubtedly be watching for any moves to back away from international aid commitments to feed the hungry in the nation of 23 million.

North Korea has suffered food shortages for well over a decade, and a famine in the mid- and late-1990s is believed to have killed up to 1 million people–though some estimates have put the figure higher. The public food distribution system staggered under the problem, and many North Koreans are now purchasing much of their food in markets, spending upwards of 80 percent of their income on food. North Korea has received more than $2 billion in food aid over the past decade, the U.S. contribution rising above $600 million of that. The United Nations World Food Program has not been able to meet its food contribution goals this year, a reflection, some analysts say, of international annoyance with North Korea’s stance on nuclear issues.

The report cites what Haggard describes as regime efforts at “systematically blocking NGO [nongovernmental organizations] aid.” Barriers include North Korean limits on the number of food-aid monitors allowed to follow distribution, preventing the WFP from deploying Korean-speaking staff, putting several counties (with 15 percent of the population) off limits, and requiring that inspection visits be announced ahead of time. All of that, the authors suggest, worsens the problem of aid being misdirected. Further, says Haggard, the North Koreans cut commercial imports nearly in tandem with growing food aid from other countries. The meaning: “The North Korean regime was using food imports as a sort of balance-of-payments support,” he says.

Despite their qualms, the authors do not advocate stopping food aid to the North, suggesting that China and South Korea–two countries that have tried to support the North with food aid outside of U.N. channels–would simply step in and fill the gap. They do want South Korea, in particular, however, to make its food donations through the WFP, where the monitoring is at least better. The South Korean government, however, says that it does inspect its distribution site in North Korea and stresses the need for North Korea to undertake an “equitable distribution of food.”

But no one should expect quick fixes to the challenge of verifying that aid to the North goes where it should be going.

“Absolute control is not possible,” Ells Culver, a cofounder of Oregon-based Mercy Corps, said in a recent interview with U.S. News. Mercy Corps is assisting with several agriculture projects in the North. “We’ll never get as much monitoring as in other countries.” Such pragmatism, however imperfect it is, may be the best approach to helping North Korea’s hungry.