Food aid: Helping the people in North Korea or the regime?

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Food aid: Helping the people in North Korea or the regime?

Since 1995, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) has been distributing tons of food aid in North Korea, at least half of which stems from American tax dollars. However, the WFP has had difficulty assuring donor countries that the aid reaches the people.
After all, parts of the country are still, after 10 years, closed off entirely from inspection. As for other areas, WFP workers are required to ask North Korean authorities permission one week prior to monitoring. Otherwise, their monitoring activities end at the food distribution centers.
A South Korean media report from last year cited a former truck driver from the Korea People’s Army, who claimed food aid was indeed sent to military bases, not towns with starving people.
He mentioned seeing “white people” at distribution centers, who were not allowed to follow a slew of trucks loaded with food sacks headed to military bases.
Former military officials have also mentioned the diversion of food aid to the military. After all, how is it that millions of North Koreans have died since the mid-1990s, while North Korea’s world’s fifth-largest army remained more or less intact?
Media reports last year mentioned the WFP had threatened to suspend food shipments to a county in North Hamgyung province, as the North Korean government announced WFP workers will not be allowed there.
Last year, the WFP also threatened to end food shipments to the entire province of Jagang, home to North Korea’s weapons industry, citing the North Korean authorities’ lacking cooperation in distributing food.
The South Korean Unification Ministry, meanwhile, has accused the North Korean government of selling food aid to its citizens, while a Southeast Asian government that had donated food later found out its donations were being sold in the black market.
Even Unescap, which had raised well over $100 million for North Korea, reportedly refused to spend it on the Stalinist regime, based on the grossly lacking access and transparency in aid distribution.
When the North Koreans boasted about their uranium program in 2002, much of the world criticized the Bush administration for reducing food aid to North Korea, accusing the Republican administration of “using food aid as a weapon.”
Yet, according to North Korean refugee accounts, food aid rarely, if ever, made a difference in their lives, while some refugees say they had never heard of food aid while living in their respective hometowns.
Donor governments should determine whether food aid is actually helping the people or feeding the regime’s supporters. For now, no one knows except for the Dear Leader & Co.

by Mingi Hyun
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