Keep sanctions, aid separate

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Keep sanctions, aid separate

The recent flooding of the Yalu River appears to have battered the Shinuiju area of North Korea bordering China. A photo released North Korea’s state-run media outlet, the Korean Central News Agency, shows the severity of the situation in great detail. According to the agency’s report, many of the homes and farms in the area - including those on Wihwa Island to the north of Shinuiju City - have been flooded beyond repair.

North Korea’s food situation has been rapidly deteriorating for a long time. Last May, the Rodong Shinmun, the mouthpiece of the North Korean Workers’ Party, stressed that “addressing our food problem is the most urgent task facing the country.” It’s not hard to imagine the magnitude of the food shortage there, as the authorities used such strong words. The country still needs an additional 1.3 million tons of food this year alone. The deluge will only worsen the North’s tenuous food situation. North Korea’s chronic malnutrition, which already affects 30 percent of children under the age of six, will also get worse.

Residents of Shinuiju City, still recovering from the chaos caused by the H1N1 flu virus, now have another headache to deal with. Their personal hygiene will likely deteriorate in the wake of the flood, which could usher in other diseases and ailments.

The responsibility for easing the dire situation falls squarely on the shoulders of the North Korean regime. But the country’s government is currently unable to do the job, as evidenced by the use of primitive stretchers - made from thick sticks and straw bags - to carry mud, rocks and demolished bricks.

It’s lamentable that the North Korean regime can’t even feed its own people while it heralds the “construction of a powerful country.”

But we should not ignore the miserable realities of life in the North.

There is a sizable segment of our society that remains strongly against providing aid to the North in a time when much of the world has imposed sanctions against the country as punishment for its move to sink a South Korean warship in March.

However, from a long-term perspective, we should provide humanitarian aid to North Korea, which is suffering tremendous pain from a natural disaster. It is our destiny to live side-by-side with the North Korean people when our divided peninsula is unified once again. Therefore, simply looking at the North with our arms crossed while the nation suffers from severe starvation and disease is not the right course to take. If we ignore their current plight, it will be harder for us to win their backing on the idea of unification.
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