With North Korea’s accelerating weapons program, the United Nations’ food aid to the country looks set for a donation drought. But Lim Hyoung-joon, the United Nations World Food Program’s Korea office head, stresses humanitarian support must continue, regardless of the current political situation.
“The issue of humanitarian aid to North Korea should be viewed separately from the political situation,” Lim said in an interview with The Korea Herald on Thursday.
“Political situations can be complicated, but such issues must be dealt separately” he added.
The WFP launched the North Korea program in the mid-1990s, focusing on food and disaster relief. The Seoul office supports its funding and serves as a liaison between the UN body and the South Korean government.
“Our resource is based on voluntary funding and there has been a noticeable drop in donations (following the implementation of UN sanctions against North Korea),” said Lim, expressing worry for next year's program.
Despite the lackluster donation figures, however, the UN official expressed hope over South Korea’s plan to provide aid through WFP.
The Moon Jae-in administration will chip in $4.5 million for a nutrition program run by WFP, aimed at nurturing suffering children and pregnant women, for its first state-backed aid to the North.
It comes as part of the government’s $8 million aid package to North Korea, announced in September. The remaining $3.5 million will go to a malnutrition project and vaccine provisions by the UN Children’s Fund. The previous administration under President Park Geun-hye suspended all support to the North following its fourth nuclear weapons test in January last year.
Lim said South Korea providing aid to the North at this tense moment will send a positive message.
“South Korea graduated from WFP assistance only in 20 years and actually achieved ‘zero hunger,’ which has manifested into a symbol of hope to the world.”
“The world will move once South Korea takes a step.”
A recent UN report showed that about 72 percent of the North Korean population of 24.9 million suffers from food shortages and malnutrition. Among them, 1.3 million, including children and pregnant women, are in dire need of help.
He also underlined transparency in its aid program.
“We have a very transparent and strict ‘no access, no food assistance’ policy which prioritizes monitoring of our aid supply routes. In the areas we operate, the monitoring team conducts inspections as frequently as 130 times a month,” he stressed.
By Jung Min-kyung (firstname.lastname@example.org