Magazine article The Christian Century

Helping North Korea

Magazine article The Christian Century

Helping North Korea

Article excerpt

PRIVATE RELIEF groups are urging the U.S. State Department to put moral concerns ahead of geopolitical maneuvering by sending emergency food assistance to help avert a looming famine in communist North Korea. "Food aid should never be used as a weapon of diplomacy in a famine when thousands of poor people's lives are at stake," declared a statement released by InterAction, a Washington-based coalition of more than 150 nonprofit humanitarian groups.

Leaders of relief groups--including several religiously affiliated organizations--met in a closed-door session with State Department officials January 23 to discuss the North Korean crisis. The United Nations World Food Program has estimated that North Korea is suffering a food deficit of about 2.3 million metric tons, the approximate amount needed to feed 12 million people annually. According to InterAction, severe malnutrition will begin by May unless relief is sent very soon to the hardline communist nation. "Hundreds of thousands of lives are probably at risk here, maybe more," warned meeting participant Andrew Natsios, vice-president of the Christian relief group World Vision.

According to a UN agency, many North Koreans who live in cities are currently receiving only 15 percent of the daily ration supplied to refugees in UN-run camps in Africa. The World Food Program reports that food supplies have run so low in North Korea that the government rationing program, which several months ago reduced the daily allotment of food to 14 ounces per person, has now further reduced the daily ration to 3.5 ounces.

Recognizing the severity of the situation, North Korea has set aside its longtime strict isolationist policy and begun accepting outside food aid. In addition, the country has allowed some international humanitarian groups to work inside its borders. However, South Korea, a key regional ally of the U.S., has opposed any closer relations between the U.S. government and the North Korean regime. Several members of Congress have also objected to dealings with one of the world's last communist strongholds.

But relief groups are urging the government to take a "moral stance" and provide at least 2 million tons of emergency grain to North Korea. "Under the credo of `a hungry child knows no politics,' the United States has a proud 12-year tradition of providing food assistance to people whose lives are threatened by famine without regard to politics," noted the InterAction statement, which was released after the State Department meeting. …

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