A global humanitarian group Tuesday called for a defusing of mounting peninsular tension to continue providing humanitarian aid to North Koreans.
This is because such aid will eventually reach out to people in the region to bring about change in the regime, according to Lesley-Anne Knight, secretary-general of Caritas Internationalis.
“In our experience, humanitarian aid dampens tension because we are working at the grass roots level, and change comes from the bottom up,” Knight said in a press conference in Seoul.
She noted how hardliners may believe all types of aid should be halted to punish the North, but stressed that such moves would cause only further conflict.
“The issue is why it doesn’t work to punish a regime by withholding humanitarian aid,” the secretary-general said.
She added that because of the rising tension, the group faces increasing difficulty in persuading its funders to give more to North Korea.
Tension between the two Koreas has piqued in the aftermath of investigation results last month fingering Pyongyang as the culprit behind the March 26 sinking of a South Korean warship.
Citing what many called the worst military provocation since the 1950-53 Korean War, Seoul has pledged unusually firm measures to penalize the North.
The government ruled out military action, but said it would be sufficiently prepared for any further provocations.
Antisubmarine drills have taken place in the West Sea where the Cheonan sank. More drills, this time with the U.S. Navy, are scheduled for later this month.
Pyongyang has responded with threats of war.
Amid growing animosity, the Seoul government has said minimum humanitarian aid to the North will continue.
More cooperation is necessary from the South Korean government, according to Wolfgang Gerstner, who heads the organization’s program on aiding the North.
“We need more support from the South Korean government because it is difficult to get permission to export the vaccines we have bought,” Gerstner said.
The group purchases the vaccines from South Korean pharmaceutical firms and exports them via China.
Caritas has over the past year been conducting vaccinations of Hepatitis B for children in Pyongyang.
Almost 500,000 children were vaccinated during the initial round. The effectiveness rate also was high, reaching over 97 percent.
Caritas Internationalis is a confederation of 164 Roman Catholic relief, development and social service organizations operating in over 200 countries. Among its members, Caritas Korea was established in 1975.
About 2-3 percent of the organization’s budget is allotted for North Korea.
Despite the small figure, Knight said the North remains as a priority as it is designated as a country suffering from a chronic humanitarian crisis.
By Kim Ji-hyun (firstname.lastname@example.org