What Works Best? by Erich Weingartner

There is a simple question I am often asked when speaking about humanitarian assistance: What works best with the DPRK?

Simple questions don’t always result in simple answers, and when it comes to the DPRK, simple answers don’t exist. Actually, even simple questions turn out to be more complex when applied to the DPRK: What do we mean by the words “works best”? Works best for whom? For what purpose? Under what circumstances? During what time period? And who or what determines what works best?

North Korean children consuming donated food (Picture by Erich Weingartner)

North Korean children consuming donated food (Picture by Erich Weingartner)

Works best for whom?

For the donors? For the implementing agencies? For the recipient country? For the intended beneficiaries?

What works best for international agencies may not work best for Korean organizations. What works best for resident NGOs may not work for non-resident NGOs. What works best for European NGOs under the umbrella of the EU or EC or ECHO may not work for American NGOs distributing the donations of US-AID. What works best for the Eugene Bell Foundation may not work at all for Doctors Without Borders (MSF). What works best for the elite in Pyongyang may not work well for the families of unemployed workers in Chongjin.

Works best for what purpose?

What may work best in the short term may not work best with a longer-term perspective in mind. When evaluating assistance programme models and strategies, we should consider what long-term objectives we are seeking to achieve:

  • When we intervene in the DPRK, is our only goal to feed the hungry?
  • Or are we also concerned about peace and security in the region? Read the rest of this entry »

Ottawa Round Table Part 2 – Opening Remarks by Erich Weingartner

Finding the Right Balance to Aid North Korean People

Ottawa Round Table on Humanitarian Aid in the Current North Korean Context, 5 March 2012

Origin of this Round Table

In February 2011 a number of agencies received messages from DPRK authorities urgently requesting food aid. These requests unleashed a vibrant discussion within the humanitarian and policy communities as to whether the need is great enough to warrant emergency aid, and if so, whether monitoring can be sufficiently guaranteed to prevent diversion to the military or the elite at the expense of those most in need.

Assessment missions were sent by the FAO/WFP, the EU, the USA, as well as a consortium of US-based NGOs. All concluded that the food deficit is real, although there was considerable disagreement about the capacity of aid agencies to mount a robust monitoring regime. The EU and a number of countries decided to deliver modest quantities of aid. Canada contributed 2.5 million dollars to the WFP for eventual use in North Korea. The USA continued bilateral negotiations that resulted in a positive decision in December 2011. An announcement was to be made the week that Kim Jong Il died.

In early summer 2011 CanKor initiated discussions among Canadian NGOs as to whether the situation merited a Canadian initiative. Only a very small number of Canadian agencies still delivered modest amounts of targeted food aid to the DPRK. Continuing questions surrounding monitoring standards in the DPRK discouraged other NGOs from initiating any significant new food aid activities.

On the other hand, there were still a number of NGOs interested in convening a round table to engage in discussion about North Korean humanitarian dilemmas. Some were concerned that the food aid debate had become increasingly politicized. What was the basis of decisions surrounding food aid, for example? Were food aid decisions made for humanitarian purposes, or has food become an additional tool in the exercise of coercive diplomacy to further aims such as rolling back DPRK nuclear weapons development, promoting human rights, or encouraging democratic development and/or regime change? Read the rest of this entry »

Ottawa Round Table Part 1 – Humanitarian Aid in the Current North Korean Context

Canadian Humanitarians at Round Table in Ottawa

Ottawa Round Table on Humanitarian Aid in the Current North Korean Context, 5 March 2012

During the two-week glimmer of hope between the US-DPRK “Leap Day Deal” and the subsequent announcement of North Korea’s satellite launch, a small but persistent group of Canadian humanitarians met in Canada’s capital on Monday, 5 March 2012, to discuss “Humanitarian Aid in the Current North Korean Context”.

The representatives of organizations still actively engaged in assistance to the people of North Korea harbored no illusions that the current transition in the DPRK leadership would melt away the difficulties involved in the provision of humanitarian aid. There was, however, a consensus that whatever the international climate may be at any particular time, engagement is a key to projecting Canadian values into the situation, whether by the government or by civil society. When Canadian government policy is engagement, this tends to support the work of Canadian NGOs, who in turn embody the best of Canada’s reputation for peace and human security. When government policy is non-engagement, the activities of NGOs nonetheless continue to further Canadian values, thus laying the groundwork for future engagement policies.

During the past several years, strategic, military and human rights issues in relation to North Korea have received a considerable amount of attention by Canada and the international community. By and large, humanitarian issues have taken the back seat. The humanitarian group assembled in Ottawa hoped that the plight of the North Korean people would not fall through the cracks. The long-term goal of peace and human security on the entire Korean Peninsula should remain the central focus of Canadian policies. Although the recent leadership change has not yet provided sufficient indicators of change, participants felt that this is an opportune time for Canadian re-engagement to benefit the North Korean people. Read the rest of this entry »

FAO/WFP Crop Assessment Report Published

(Photo by Erich Weingartner, December 2010)

An FAO/WFP Crop and Food Security Assessment Mission (CFSAM) visited DPRK at the request of the Government from 3 to 17 October to assess the 2011 main-crop harvest, forecast the 2012 production of winter and spring crops, estimate cereal import requirements for the 2011/12 marketing year (November 2011 to October 2012), to assess the household food security situation and estimate food assistance needs.

This is an annual assessment that calculates staple cereal availability and needs, on which is based the WFP food aid appeal for the following year. As in previous years, the DPRK is suffering from a net food deficit. The report notes the following:

The total cereal import requirement in 2011/12 is estimated at 739 000 tonnes. As indicated by various CFSAM reports in the past, since mid-1990s the cereal equivalent import requirement (i.e. the national food deficit), has hovered around 1 million tonnes, reaching over 2 million tonnes in 2000/01, the year of the worst harvest. Last year’s CFSAM estimated the cereal import requirements at 867 000 tonnes which was later revised upwards to 1.09 million tonnes due to losses of the early crops. The food gap has narrowed this year, but it still remains at a significantly high level. Read the rest of this entry »

Update on Humanitarian Aid to North Korea by Victor Hsu

[CanKor Brain Trust member Victor Hsu is Visiting Professor, School of Public Policy and Management , Korea Development Institute (KDI), Seoul. Prof. Hsu supplied this update to the Ecumenical Forum for Korea. –CanKor.]

In early November, I attended an International Conference on Humanitarian and Development Aid to North Korea. This Seoul conference was jointly sponsored by the Korean Sharing Movement and Gyonggi Province and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung. This is the 7th in a series of international events organized for the purpose of encouraging concerned people to continue to provide aid to North Korea on humanitarian grounds.

CanKor Editor Erich Weingartner with Brain Trust members Randy Ireson, Karin Janz and Victor Hsu in Seoul at the 2011 International Conference on Humanitarian and Development Assistance to the DPRK.

Attending the meeting is always nostalgic for me because I organized the very first one attended by over 150 international humanitarian practitioners in Beijing in 1998 and I participated in almost every one to be a keynote speaker or a panelist. This year I gave a presentation on the United States Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) food aid experience in North Korea when they monitored US government food aid from July 2008 to March 2009. I was then the National Director for North Korea of World Vision International.

This year’s event was very special because the former Executive Director of the World Food Program (WFP) was a special guest. In 1996-1997, I worked with her to set up the Food Aid Liaison Group of the WFP in Pyongyang and the first head of FALU, Erich Weingartner, was also a participant at the conference. Erich Weingartner is known to many people in the ecumenical movement as a former staff of the World Council of Churches International Affairs Commission. So it was a wonderful reunion for the three of us.

At the conference we learned that the humanitarian crisis continues to worsen in North Korea. We heard reports from the Country Director of the WFP in North Korea, an NGO representative from North Korea and an American NGO representative who headed a food assessment mission in North Korea this year. Together they presented a very serious picture of the worsening plight of the most vulnerable, such as children under five years old and the elderly. Among the information that I learned:

Read the rest of this entry »

Canadian aid organization reports delivery of food aid

First Steps is a Vancouver-based Christian development organization whose primary purpose is preventing child malnutrition in North Korea through programs that provide essential nutrients to young children. The Fall 2011 Newsletter edition is now available.

Two monitoring teams visited over 40 sites confirming the delivery of more than 200 tonnes of food aid to nurseries and orphanages in North Korea.

South-North Cooperation on Malaria Control in Korea

[CanKor is pleased to publish a paper written for us by Jae S. Hwang, Project Director of the Development Cooperation Project Division of the Seoul-based Korean Sharing Movement. The Malaria Control Project in the DPRK has been one of the few activities that has been permitted to continue its work in North Korea after the ROK Government suspended all humanitarian projects by South Korean NGOs active in the DPRK. The Malaria Control Project, which has been operational since 2008, is an excellent example of cooperation between an NGO and a regional government–in this case the Provincial Government of Gyeonggi Province, bordering the demilitarized zone on the South Korean side. As Mr. Hwang reports, this year the project has expanded with additional participation by the Incheon Metropolitan Government. Malaria had been eradicated in South Korea, but reappeared as a health threat in the 1990s because of inadequate medical resources on the northern side of the DMZ. We are pleased to present this exclusive report to CanKor readers. A few excerpts are found below. To read the full report, complete with pictures and charts, please follow the link to Malaria Control Project in the DPRK. –CanKor.]

Picture taken on 17 August 2010 at the South Korean CIQ (customs, immigration and quarantine). Just before leaving for a visit to Gaesung, Prof. Park Jae Won explains the project to the press. This was the first aid shipment to the DPRK that the ROK Government approved since the 5.24 measures. This explains the lively interest of the press. (Photo by KSM)

(…) Most cases of tertian malaria in South Korea occur in areas near the DMZ along the border of South and North Korea. Most outbreaks occur in the northern areas of South Korea, specifically northern Gyeonggi Province, northern Incheon City, and Kangwon Province, and in the southern areas of North Korea, including Kaesong and its vicinity, South Hwanghae Province and North Kangwon Province.

(…) Thus malaria is a problem that directly affects the health of people in both Koreas, and this is a case where maximum synergy can be achieved only when the strengths of North and South are combined. For this reason since 2008 KSM and Gyeonggi Province have been conducting the “Malaria Control Project in the DPRK,” which to date has treated 500,000 people from 130,000 households in the Kaesong Area. Read the rest of this entry »

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