A brief look: North Korea requests emergency aid, but who’s listening?

By Khadija Patel 3 August 2011

Like Somalia, North Korea is currently facing a famine. Unlike Somalia though, international aid is hard to come by for the Asian country. By KHADIJA PATEL.

While much of the world’s aid giving is currently aimed at the Horn of Africa, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), or North Korea as it is better known, has for months now appealed to the international community for urgent humanitarian assistance. Last week, Pyongyang sent an emergency request to the UN for the release of emergency relief supplies after heavy rains caused floods in parts of the country.

As a result of poor farming methods and deforestation North Korea tends to face regular, significant food shortages but the harsh winter and recent floods have raised renewed concerns about food security in the land of Kim Jong Il.  Experts blame the decades-long policy of deforestation to create land for arable farming and provide firewood for the North’s vulnerability to flooding. Since June this year, nearly 148,200 acres of farmland has been submerged or washed away, renewing concerns about this year’s grain harvest.

According to the World Food Programme, malnutrition rates among children in North Korea have decreased in the last ten years but one in every three children remains chronically malnourished or “stunted”, meaning they are too short for their age. A quarter of all pregnant and breast-feeding women are also malnourished. The chronic food shortages in North Korea mean that the current rations provided by the government can only meet less than half of the daily calorific needs for a whopping 68% of the 16 million strong population who rely on public food ration. Most people struggle to make up the deficit through alternative means as they do not have the necessary purchasing power. The floods then are an added strain to chronic food shortages in the country.

The official KCNA news agency of North Korea said on Monday that tropical storms and heavy rains that have lashed the country over the past two months have left dozens dead, injured or missing and destroyed 2,900 homes. Some 8,000 people are also reported to be living in makeshift buildings.

So far, North Korea has been verbose about Beijing and the Red Cross Society of China offering emergency relief materials to Pyongyang in response to the most recent floods last week. NGOs from South Korea have also shipped in grain to North Korean hospitals and the UN has launched a joint emergency task force in response to the request from Pyongyang.  Last month, the EU announced that it would provide about $14.5 million in emergency aid to feed 650,000 North Koreans affected by food shortages. The International Committee for the Red Cross and Red Crescent have also sent 600 kits containing bottles of water, utensils, blankets and tarps to the North Hwanghae province and The Red Cross said an additional 2,460 kits containing soap, toilet paper, towels, toothbrushes, toothpaste and water purification tablets would also be sent to South Hwanghae province. The US has yet to decide whether to send aid to North Korea. DM

Read more:

  • S. Korea group to monitor N. Korea food aid at Dawn.com.

Photo: A truck driver walks on a truck carrying sacks of flour to North Korea at a parking lot of Imjingak pavilion near the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas in Paju, about 55 km (34 miles) north of Seoul, July 26, 2011. South Korean civic groups sent 300 tonnes of flour aid on Tuesday to help starving North Koreans in Sariwon city, North Hwanghae Province, North Korea. The groups also demanded the South Korean government to expand humanitarian food aid to the North. REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak


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