Conditional food aidForeign Minister Yu Myung-hwan said that the government is willing to provide humanitarian food aid to North Korea. Another senior official said the government will provide aid to the North, officially or unofficially, whenever North Korea requests it.
This is supposed to reaffirm a long-standing policy of providing food aid without pre-conditions, but North Korea must first request it. This year, worries over food shortages in North Korea are rising here and in other countries. Last year, North Korea had poor harvests due to terrible floods. Its problems were compounded by cuts in international aid when the country conducted a nuclear test in the fall of 2006.
Some organizations that provide aid to North Korea maintain that tens of thousands of people may die from hunger.
This might be an exaggeration, but the foreign minister also said that the food shortage is estimated to reach 1 to 1.4 million tons.
North Korea certainly has serious difficulties in getting food. North Koreans are facing another disaster, following their “arduous march” in the 1990s.
The Pyongyang leadership is accountable for this miserable situation. But international society has no institutions to persuade North Korea or keep it in check.
It is ordinary citizens who suffer most from starvation, particularly the elderly and the very young.
If this persists for several more years, alarms have been raised about a national calamity. Therefore, aid to the North Korean people must continue.
This is why humanitarian aid should continue even though transparency is not completely guaranteed. Providing aid will be helpful to North Korean citizens to some extent.
The new administration has made a pre-condition that North Korea must request aid first. The administration probably wanted to reflect the South Korean people’s consensus that the earlier practice of shoveling aid to the North must be fixed.
However, it is strange to attach certain conditions to humanitarian aid. Considering that the North Korean regime has strong pride, the chance that this condition would be accepted is slim.
It would probably be more practical if Seoul said it will continue providing humanitarian aid no matter what, so the North will be encouraged to engage in dialogue.