South Korea has said it will make its largest food donation to the North since 2008, as an estimated 40% of North Koreans are undernourished. Much of the aid is aimed at helping vulnerable children and mothers.
South Korea on Wednesday announced it would donate 50,000 metric tons of rice to North Korea through the UN's World Food Program (WFP). It is the largest food donation from South since 2008, coming as the North faces an acute food shortage. South Korea also promised to donate $4.5 million (€4 billion) to the WFP to help fend off a humanitarian crisis.
The WFP estimates that it will take at least two months to deliver the 50,000 tons of rice to North Korea
North Korea has long struggled to feed its population and frequently suffers food shortages. According to the WFP's 2019 Needs and Priorities report, estimates have shown that at least 10 million people in North Korea — 40% of the population — are "undernourished and require humanitarian assistance."
The WFP said in a statement that the aid would support 2 million children and pregnant and nursing mothers. Children are especially affected by food shortages, and the WFP estimates that one in five children in North Korea has stunted growth due to malnutrition.
Politics and climate change
North Korea's food crisis is exacerbated by a combination of politics and climate change. As the North faces international isolation and sanctions over its nuclear weapons program, state media report the country is experiencing its worst drought since 1917. In 2018, a severe heat wave and a typhoon devastated provinces known as the country's "food basket." This followed a drought and food shortages in 2017.
Shipping aid to North Korea is also controversial because of concerns that the country's authoritarian government will divert supplies, or misappropriate aid for its own benefit. Pyongyang has been condemned for using all available public resources for developing its weapons program and the military.
WFP senior spokesman Herve Verhoosel said in a statement that the agency would require "high standards for access and monitoring" to be in place before distributing any aid.
More help is needed
Verhoosel also said that 300,000 metric tons of food, valued at $275 million, is needed to support "people most affected by significant crop losses over successive seasons."
In its 2019 report on North Korea, the WFP said North Koreans living in rural areas have worse diets than people in cities and rely on a dysfunctional government distribution system supplemented by improvised gardens.
According to South Korean officials, the rice donation announced Wednesday is worth around $108 million
Since last year's partial rapprochement with the North, South Korea has been doing more to promote inter-Korean engagement. Although the US-North Korea summit in February failed to produce results, South Korean President Moon Jae-in has expressed hope that aid from the South will help improve relations.
The rice donation is the first time the South has provided food aid to the North since 2010, when it provided 5,000 tons of rice.
wmr/sms (AP, Reuters, dpa, AFP)