Food aid diversion: Why it does NOT matter by Rüdiger Frank

[Dr. Rüdiger Frank is Professor and Chair of East Asian Economy and Society, as well as Deputy Head of the Department of East Asian Studies at the University of Vienna, Austria. – CanKor.]

Donated food in a Chonnae nursery (photo by Erich Weingartner)

One of the things I have, for years, been having difficulties to understand is the discussion of (staple) food diversion. It is of course an important political issue if we consider that donors like to give their resources for a specified purpose and discontinue donating if it cannot be proven that everything went as promised. Fair enough.

But from an economic perspective of feeding North Koreans, food diversion does not matter much.

Let me explain.

  1. Most importantly, food aid is not the only source of food in North Korea. It is only supposed to cover a gap between demand and supply. If “non-deserving groups” get no food aid, they will take their share from the other sources such as domestic production or regular imports, thus reducing the food amount available for deserving groups. In the end, it is a zero sum game. What matters is the total amount of food available in North Korea. If it is high enough, the poor will eat. If it is not, they will be the first to suffer. It’s as simple as that. Read the rest of this entry »

Food aid discussion less informed than necessary by Victor Hsu

[It was CanKor Brain Trust member Prof. Victor W. Hsu‘s article in the Korea Times newspaper that set off a lively debate about the pros and cons of food aid to the DPRK. The full text of that article can be found here. Victor Hsu is Visiting Professor at the Korean Development Institute School of Public Policy and Management in Seoul and offers CanKor further details that should not be missed about the food aid discussion. –CanKor.]

Prof. Victor W.C. Hsu

The current food aid discussion is not as informed as it should be. The following dimensions should be part of the considerations in any debate about food aid to North Korea.

1. It is not sufficient to say without explanation that the last round of food aid by the US government (July 2008 to March 2009) was terminated because North Korea expelled food aid monitors. The program ended in tandem with two developments:

(a) the WFP was unable to obtain an agreement on the monitoring terms after almost one year of negotiations. Since it was responsbile for 80% of the amount of food aid, it didn’t make sense to drag the negotiations on. The proposal to shift the amount of aid to the NGOs which were implementing smoothly its 20% didn’t receive unanimity among the other stakeholders: USG, DPRK and WFP. Read the rest of this entry »

North Korea’s Christian Federation (KCF) responds to delivery of food aid by NCCK

A letter of “deep appreciation” (dated 6 June 2011) was received by the National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK) from the Rev. Kang Young Sup, Chairman of the KCF.

“In his message to me,” writes Rev. Kim Young Ju, NCCK General Secretary, “he expressed the KCF’s support on various efforts of the NCCK for justice, democratization, peace and reunification especially during a time of difficult circumstances in our country. Rev. Kang Young Sup said that the KCF has started the distribution of the flour to the kindergartens based on an overall distribution plan for 3 townships. He gave details for each kindergarten and indicated that about 31,400 children would benefit from this shipment. The KCF asked NCCK to send additional humanitarian aid for 8 townships in North Korea. They mentioned concrete quantity (480 metric tons of flour) needed for 106,800 children of some kindergartens.”

CanKor previously reported that the NCCK was under fire from the Lee Myung-Bak administration for sending unauthorized food aid to North Korea. (See “Related Articles” below.)

Rev. Kim’s communication was received at CanKor from his assistant, Rev. Ms. Hwang Bo Hyun. (Please read in full here.)

The North Korea Food Aid Dilemma by Toni Johnson

[This analysis brief – really a summary of the arguments about food aid to the DPRK, with useful links interspersed – was compiled by Toni Johnson, Senior Staff Writer for the Council on Foreign Relations and published on the CFR website on 2 June 2011. –CanKor.]

A Chinese frontier policeman checks sacks of rice from South Korea, which will be sent to North Korea. (Stringer/Courtesy Reuters)

A U.S. team in North Korea is soon expected to present findings on whether or not the country is facing a new food crisis. Robert King, U.S. special envoy to North Korea, told the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on June 2 that the Obama administration has not made a decision on resuming food aid–suspended in 2009–but, if it does, aid will be based on need and include monitoring requirements.

North Korea’s food situation has been a topic of considerable debate in recent months. The UN World Food Programme found in March that, due to a brutal winter and crop failures, the country could run out of food and needs more than four hundred thousand metric tons of food aid (PDF) to feed the country’s six million most vulnerable. Former president Jimmy Carter echoed the plea for new aid (BBC) a month later. But South Korea’s intelligence agency argues the North’s situation is no worse than it has been (AP) in the last two years and fears of a crisis are overblown. Read the rest of this entry »

Meeting refugees from North Korea by Mary Robinson

[After a 48-hour visit to the DPRK and ROK in late April, four members of the Elders urged immediate delivery of humanitarian assistance to DPRK and an early resumption of dialogue on all outstanding issues. Mary Robinson, the first woman President of Ireland (1990-1997) and former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997-2002), has spent most of her life as a human rights advocate. Currently based in Dublin, Mary Robinson founded Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative and, more recently, the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice. She traveled to DPRK and ROK together with fellow Elders Gro Brundtland, Jimmy Carter and Martti Ahtisaari. –CanKor.]

Mary Robinson

In Seoul today I have just had a very moving meeting with a group of courageous young people – mainly young women – who are originally from North Korea. As they told me how they came to be living in South Korea, I also got a further glimpse into the true hardship of life in the DPRK.

Of course I have just been in North Korea – but it was impossible to have truly frank conversations with ordinary people while we were there – and we knew that what we saw would only touch the surface of the suffering that we had been briefed about.

The young people I met at the Yeomyung School in Seoul had almost all been separated for long periods from their parents, most of whom left North Korea out of desperation. A lack of food was mentioned by almost all as the reason for leaving. Read the rest of this entry »

Should we feed North Korea? The case FOR by Dorothy Stuehmke

[This Los Angeles Times Op-Ed was published on 21 April 2011. Stuehmke, the senior adviser to the U.S.-North Korea 2008-09 food aid program for the U.S. Agency for International Development, served in the Office of Korean Affairs at the U.S. Department of State from 2006 to 2008. She presents the case in favour of US food aid to the DPRK. –CanKor.]

North Korea has recently made a desperate international appeal for food aid. Reports from aid workers and international nongovernmental organizations warn of a major food shortage. As the United States deliberates whether to restart a food aid program in North Korea, it must consider the following questions: Is there a true humanitarian need, can we address the potential risk of food diversion and can a properly monitored program allow us to engage with the vulnerable citizens of one of the most isolated countries in the world? Read the rest of this entry »

Should we feed North Korea? The case AGAINST by Bruce Klinger

[Under the title “Food Aid to North Korea: Time Is Not Right”, Bruce Klinger published this commentary in as Heritage Foundation WebMemo #3229 on 18 April 2011. Klingner is Senior Research Fellow for Northeast Asia in the Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation. –CanKor.]

North Korea has again appealed for food aid to alleviate the suffering of its people. Teams from the World Food Program and non-government organizations (NGOs) have chronicled the country’s abysmal nutritional deficits, particularly for children and the elderly. Pyongyang told visiting inspection teams that it is now willing to accept strict monitoring requirements to prevent further diversion of food aid to its military, but doubts remain. However, North Korea’s need for food is not unique amidst other pressing global needs. Most importantly, Pyongyang’s refusal to implement economic reform and its belligerence against the very countries from which it seeks aid should preclude it from receiving large-scale aid. Read the rest of this entry »

Alliance Politics: Legislating Hunger by Morton Abramowitz

[Another article on US food aid to the DPRK to be found on our Partner website 38North is authored by The Century Foundation’s senior fellow Morton Abramowitz, who is on the boards of the International Rescue Committee, the International Crisis Group, and Human Rights in North Korea. He was president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and has held numerous positions in the US Department of State, was ambassador to Turkey and Thailand, and served as assistant secretary of state for intelligence and research, and political adviser to the commander-in-chief, Pacific. Abramowitz argues that this is one issue on which the U.S. cannot afford to simply follow Seoul’s lead. Following are two excerpts from his article, which is worth reading in full. Link supplied below. –CanKor.]

The South Korean government should stop blocking American food aid to large numbers of their brethren in the North facing starvation. Read the rest of this entry »

The WFP’s Findings Parsed, by Marcus Noland

[Marc Noland of Peterson IIE has done extensive work on the entire food assistance situation, including the facts on the ground, and the policy dilemma of whether food aid has the unfortunate byproduct of unintentionally helping to underwrite the DPRK’s nuclear program. He weighed in on the Food Aid Debate on 5 April 2011.]

The World Food Program, Food and Agricultural Organization and UNICEF have released their potentially fateful report on the North Korean food situation (formally, “WFP/FAO/UNICEF Rapid Food Security Assessment Mission to the DPRK, March 24 2011″). Although these assessments are a staple of public discussions on North Korean food security issues, for multiple reasons the balance sheet exercise that is reported is almost surely inaccurate, possibly by a large margin—if taken seriously, the past WFP/FAO reports would imply that North Korea was in almost continuous famine for the past decade, something no one asserts.

Nevertheless, these reports are so central to the public discussion that they are worth parsing. Read the rest of this entry »

The North Korea Food Aid Dilemma by Chris Nelson

[The following is reprinted here with permission from the Nelson Report – 4 April 2011]

Once again, the harsh winter, and North Korean government mal- and misfeasance has produced a serious risk of famine for what the World Food Program currently estimates as some 6-million men, women and children by the summer.

In their joint appearance before Senate Foreign Relations last month, A/S EAP Kurt Campbell, and State’s Special Envoy for North Korea, Steve Bosworth, both said “we will not let people starve”, when asked about the then-pending report.

But in fact, as we noted at the time, both Campbell and Bosworth carefully explained long-standing USG conditions on any resumption of US food aid, most revolving around inspection and verification of the long-standing US policy that its food go only to children, and “lactating women”, the bureaucratic way of talking about pregnant women and mothers of infants. Read the rest of this entry »

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