Rice aid fiascoSince late 2006, the South Korean military has seen rice bags stamped “Republic of Korea” ― the official name for South Korea ― being unloaded from trucks at a North Korean army base near the frontline.
Some bags were used to hold sand and help build the North Korean army’s encampment.
The South has long suspected that the North’s military takes the rice that the South provides to the North as aid. The suspicions have been confirmed. It is clear why the South provides rice to the North.
South Koreans believe that they cannot leave their fellow nationals in the North suffering from hunger. Today, men in South Korea are on average 15 centimeters (6 inches) taller than men in North Korea.
The worry is that if nothing is done, more tragedy will befall North Koreans.
This is why the aid continues despite North Korea’s missile launches and nuclear test.
Since 1995, South Korea has provided food worth 1 trillion won ($1.1 billion) to North Korea.
But North Koreans are still suffering. Last year, the World Food Programme expressed concerns that millions of North Koreans are facing starvation and malnutrition.
It has become clear why: The North Korean military took all the rice aid.
The methods for providing aid must change. South Korea wants to feed ordinary residents, especially children and students, who suffer most. They don’t want to feed the military.
To make sure rice is distributed to the right people, more must be done to make the process of food distribution more transparent.
During the Kim Dae-jung and the Roh Moo-hyun administrations, this process was monitored as a formality.
South Korean staff accompanied by North Korean authorities toured food distribution points.
But even when the South Korean government received evidence that the North Korean military was eating up all the rice, it did not protest. So North Korea did not even bother to hide the fact.
Providing rice to North Korea is an act of humanitarian aid. It aims to save people’s lives.
The new government must make it clear to the North that the process must change. Detailed measures need to be drawn up.
The scale of aid must be measured against the transparency of the food distribution process.
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