Catherine Bertini recommends ROK and USA resume food aid

[Catherine Bertini was Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme during the North Korean Famine of the late 1990s. She was interviewed for 2 hours in Seoul early November when she attended the 2011 International Conference on Humanitarian and Development Assistance to the DPRK. Currently she is Professor of Public Administration and International Affairs at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University. This article was written by Lee Haye-ah for Yonhap News Agency. –CanKor.]

Catherine Bertini, former executive director of the World Food Programme speaks to reporters in Seoul on 4 Nov 2011 (Yonhap)

The World Food Program (WFP) believes South Korea and the United States should resume food aid to North Korea by first offering a small amount and monitoring its fair distribution, a former chief of the U.N. agency said Friday, refuting claims that the aid does not reach its intended beneficiaries.

Catherine Bertini, who led the WFP for 10 years until 2002, said the suggestion was made to her by Claudia von Roehl, the current WFP director to North Korea, during a recent meeting in Seoul.

South Korea and the U.S., once major donors to the impoverished communist state, suspended large-scale food aid to the North in the past several years, citing concerns about its fair distribution and Pyongyang’s nuclear defiance.

The allies have so far been reluctant to resume the aid amid conflicting reports about North Korea’s food situation, and as they continue to press Pyongyang to take responsibility for two deadly attacks that killed a total of 50 South Koreans last year.

“The United Nations and the World Food Program are very hopeful that both countries will soon be in a position to make renewed food aid contributions through the WFP to the DPRK,” Bertini told a group of reporters at a hotel in downtown Seoul.

DPRK is the acronym of North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“These contributions do not have to start large. They can start with 50,000 tons and (South Korea and the U.S.) can see how it’s being managed and decide” whether the North merits further aid, she said, adding that von Roehl said this would be the most helpful strategy for the WFP in North Korea.

The former executive director was in Seoul to attend an international conference on aid to North Korea.

South Korea suspended its annual bilateral aid of 400,000 tons of rice in 2008 when conservative President Lee Myung-bak took office with a policy of linking assistance to progress in efforts to end North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs.

Under a letter of understanding signed with the Pyongyang government in June, the WFP’s monitors now have improved and random access to distribution sites across the country, according to Bertini. Bags of food are also numbered and allocated to specific warehouses, allowing monitors to later check whether they have reached their intended destinations.

If the WFP detects leaks or other suspicious activity, it can always withhold further aid, a method that Bertini said was used against North Korea in the past.

“Food aid is critical for the short term,” she said. “But for the long term, DPRK needs to move to the next phase so that it can develop its own resources and not be in a position of having the food aid shortfall.”

South Korea could live up to its pledge of helping developing countries worldwide by sharing its expertise in agriculture, health care and training with the North, she said.

“Those are the ways to build real long-term stability on the peninsula and that’s what can happen bilaterally.”

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