Comment on Chosun Ilbo article by Karin Lee


[Karin J. Lee, Executive Director of the National Committee on North Korea (NCNK) is an experienced NGO aid provider in the DPRK. -Chris Nelson]

Chris, The poll quoted in the Chosun Ilbo article that you sent out last night doesn’t take into account the following considerations:

1) when did the person leave the DPRK? Food monitoring regimes have changed over time. If somebody left earlier, when the monitoring was less exhaustive, their experiences may have been different from somebody who left more recently. In particular the 2008/2009 program had greatly improved monitoring.

) What is the gender and age of the person being polled? If they were over 7 and were not a pregnant or lactating woman during the period for which they were being interviewed (or, in some eras of food aid, elderly), then they were not necessarily eligible for WFP food aid. The exception is if they were participating in “food-for-work” programs during the time such programs were active. But food-for-work programs were not country wide, nor were they also a component of assistance, so it would take correlating a person’s age, gender, location in the DPRK at the given, time, etc, to determine if they were eligible for aid.

3) The poll commingles all kinds of aid. For example, in the 2008/2009 program, USAID provided no rice. If people were saying that they got no rice aid from that program, it would make sense.

4) As the South Korean government acknowledges, they have never had a robust monitoring regime. This is in part because under the previous administrations food aid was provided as bilateral assistance and given in the form of “loans.” However, the poll lumps together all kinds of aid, not examining whether or not some aid was more likely to be distributed according to agreements than other types of aid. This makes it difficult to use the poll as an instrument to measure the success of different aid programs. Unfortunately, although the current South Korean administration has greatly reduced the amount of aid it provides to the DPRK, it hasn’t necessarily prioritized monitoring. Last fall, when ROK NGOs were allowed to send privately funded aid for the first time after the sinking of the Cheonan, it was illegal for them to visit the DPRK. That means it was not possible for the ROK NGOs to assess the need for aid or to monitor its distribution. While the amounts of aid were minimal, this practice stands outside the standard that the WFP and aid agencies from other countries have tried to establish. (I don’t know if ROK NGOs are allowed to visit now to oversee the distribution of the small amounts of aid currently allowed about the government.)

 5) It is easy to forget that defectors are self-selected. People leave for a number of reasons, including lack of access to food. There may be variations in different areas in how aid is distributed. There is less incentive to leave if somebody receives adequate aid. The “margin of error” given for the poll is for the defector population, not for the entire country. This doesn’t mean that there definitely are differences in how food aid is distributed, but it does mean that we don’t know whether or not there are differences.

 I’m not saying that aid is not diverted, nor that it is diverted. But this poll doesn’t sway my opinion one way or another, for the reasons outlined above.

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