The food crisis in the North

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The food crisis in the North

The United Nations is again drawing attention to the food crisis in North Korea, urging the international community to resume food aid to the reclusive, poverty-stricken country.

Two UN agencies - the World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization - visited 40 counties in nine provinces in North Korea from February to early March and concluded that more than 6 million people, or about a quarter of the country’s population, are in urgent need of food assistance.

They concluded that hundreds of thousands of tons of food aid are needed to prevent starvation and malnutrition among North Koreans.

These latest findings are likely to put pressure on the United States to resume humanitarian aid to North Korea, suspended since 2009, as President Barack Obama has been suggesting that Washington will keep humanitarian and political issues separate.

Mark Toner, U.S. State Department spokesman, said in a press briefing that food assistance to North Korea would be kept separate from politics.

U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry said the UN study is “dire” and urged resumption of food aid if there are assurances that the supplies would reach civilians in need.

The Obama administration is expected to the study the timing and scope of aid through consultations with the South Korean government.

The South Korean government has maintained that it will resume food aid once North Korea offers a sincere apology for its attack on the Cheonan and Yeonpyeong Island. Although it is not in a position to participate in the international aid effort immediately, it is still considering its participation for the sake of children and elderly.

Given the North’s severe food situation, the South Korean government should not deny offering indirect assistance through international donors, especially if Washington resumes aid.

But the international community must enhance monitoring to assure that aid supplies reach civilians and not the military or the elite.

Donors must secure a guarantee from Pyongyang officials on transparency in distribution of the supplies. If humanitarian aid fails to reach the residents, the North Korean regime would simultaneously be betraying the international community and its people.
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