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 »
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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 »

Das Leiden der Kinder von Haeju

[For German readers, here is an article published by the German radio and television broadcaster ARD entitled “The Suffering of the Children of Haeju”. It details the current problem of hunger in North Korea, specifically reporting on the work of the German NGO Cap Anamur, which has been active in the DPRK for more than a decade. –CanKor.]

Nur wenige Mütter kommen mit ihren Kindern überhaupt ins Krankenhaus. Es gibt zwar ausreichend Ärzte, aber auch hier warten sie vergeblich auf Reis. (Foto ARD)

Nordkorea ist von chronischem Lebensmittelmangel betroffen, in den 1990er-Jahren starben bereits Tausende Menschen bei einer Hungersnot. Laut der UNO brauchen dort derzeit rund sechs Millionen Menschen dringend Hilfe. von Nils Kinkel, ARD-Studio Ostasien.

Es regnet seit Wochen in Strömen – auch die zweieinhalb Stunden auf der Fahrt von Pjöngjang in Richtung Süden. Es geht vom Schaufenster Nordkoreas in das Armenhaus. In der Kornkammer wachsen auf den satten, grünen Feldern Reis, Mais und Kartoffeln. Die Ernte im Herbst droht davonzuschwimmen und dabei gibt es nach dem harten Winter schon jetzt nichts mehr zu Essen. Jeder Vierte im Land hungert, so die Schätzungen des Welternährungsprogramms.

Der Anblick der ausgemergelten Kinder im Krankenhaus von Haeju ist erschütternd: “Ich habe Bauchweh, hatte drei Tage Durchfall”, flüstert der fünfjährige Kim Jin Song leise – und hält sich dabei die Hand auf den Bauch. Der starke Regen der letzten Wochen hat das Trinkwasser verunreinigt und die Situation für die geschwächten Kinder in der Region verschlimmert. Read the rest of this entry »

38 North: The Food Debate — Hungry for Action

[Following up on our food aid and food security theme, we would like to alert our readers to papers published by our partner-site 38North. Two articles in particular have drawn our attention. The first is a further analysis of the recent decision by the European Union to send food aid to the DPRK. It is written by Glyn Ford, a man who knows the EU intimately, having been a Member of the European Parliament for over 25 years, until the June 2009 elections. The second article is by Roberta Cohen, whom CanKor readers have met before. She is a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution specializing in human rights and humanitarian issues, and a member of the Board of Directors of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea. Cohen argues in her article that the time has come for the Obama administration to stop dawdling and come to a positive decision regarding food aid. Please follow our links to the articles on the 38North site. –CanKor.]

Feeding the Famine: The European Union’s Response to North Korea by Glyn Ford 

The European Union (EU) announced on July 4, 2011 that it would provide €10 million ($14.3 M) of emergency food aid to North Korea to be distributed through the World Food Programme (WFP) over the next three months–until the end of September, just prior to the arrival of this year’s harvest. This aid represents a much delayed response to an initial request for humanitarian assistance sent by Foreign Minister Pak Ui Chun on January 24… Over the last decade, the EU has provided roughly €500 M ($715 M) in aid, including humanitarian assistance, and nutritional, sanitation, and development projects, plus an earlier contribution to the Korean Energy Development Organisation (KEDO)… Read more…

Hunger in North Korea: Time for a Decision by Roberta Cohen

…But taking no decision is really a decision, which gives the impression that there may be no urgent or extensive food crisis in North Korea requiring immediate action. It set aside the findings of thirteen reputable relief groups and did not dispatch its own mission until the end of May. The mission visited only two provinces (the United Nations visited nine) and has been studying its findings for more than a month. Washington also has been developing stringent monitoring standards should it resume aid, given North Korea’s known diversions to the army and elite. But these may possibly be so restrictive as to preempt agreement… Read more…

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