[GoodFriends]"Humanitarian Aid to North Korea: How to approach it?" by Pomnyun

Humanitarian Aid to North Korea: How to approach it?

Venerable Pomnyun Sunim
Chairman, Peace Foundation
Chairman, Good Friends
E-mail: pomnyun@peacefoundation.or.kr

October 15, 2009

1. Is North Korea in Humanitarian Crisis?

1) Issues raised in South Korea regarding humanitarian aid for North Korea

(1) In the last ten years, humanitarian aid for North Korea has not yet fundamentally resolved the North Korean food crisis and poverty, but it has played a critical role in alleviating the severity of hunger crisis among North Koreans. As a result, there has been a more positive relationship between North and South Korea and North Korea has become more reliant economically on South Korea.

(2) On the other hand, the internal criticisms and conflict in regards to aid for North Korea within the South Korean society have been heightened. Such criticisms include “one-way giving with nothing in return”, “North Korea is not changing”, “why give when all aid is diverted to the military”, and “why give humanitarian aid when they are developing nuclear weapons”.

(3) The current administration of South Korean government conducted a comprehensive review of the policy and humanitarian aid for North Korea in the past 10years but the focus of the debate has been mostly based on emotional assessment of the North Korean value system rather than an assessment of the North Korean humanitarian crisis and a search for its resolution. Therefore, the government needs to develop principled debates on the assessment of the current situation concerning humanitarian aid, aid policy and effectiveness of aid methods, and seek realistic ways to reach a consensus.

2) Recent recurrence of humanitarian crisis in North Korea

(1) Humanitarian crisis
The crisis includes: a lack of response mechanism to natural disasters; low agricultural productivity due to communism; a government focused more on strengthening military for sustaining its system than improving peoples’ living condition; and lack of self-sustainability for food.

(2) The recent humanitarian crisis
① In 2006: decrease in food production due to the flood
② In 2007: deaths from hunger, a sharp decrease in food production due to the flood.
③ In 2008: food crisis, a drastic increase (850 NK won/kg to 4,000 NK won/kg) in rice price, death toll of hundreds of thousands by starvation, millions of people with malnutrition, and increased tuberculosis patients
④ Harvest in 2008: normal harvest with favorable weather and environment.
⑤ In 2009: There has been severe starvation, but not massive death toll yet. Rice prices peaked 2,500 NK won in April and dropped to 1,800-2,000 NK won from May to August. They increased to 2,500 NK won in September and gradually dropped over the harvest season.

(3) Harvest in 2009: an extremely low harvest due to unseasonable weather and insufficient fertilizer. Next year is forecasted to be worse than the Arduous March period.

(4) In 2010, a severe lack of food is expected. Without external aid, there will be an enormous rise in death toll (poor harvest, confiscation of small land plots, and crack down on open markets will make it difficult to secure food and North Koreans might face the worst food crisis next year).

3) North Korean ration system and policy that have led to worsening humanitarian crisis

(1) Ration system
▢Priority 1: High level government and party officials and their families (Residents of Pyongyang and surrounding areas) – approx. one million (special rations) 
▢Priority 2: Security and law enforcement related personnel such as military, police, and other law enforcement officials – approx. 1.5 million (rations provided by work units)
▢Priority 3: Workers at industrial units related to production of military supplies and other state owned enterprises and their families: approx. 4 million (food provided by the enterprises)
▢Priority 4: Other general workers and residents – approx. 6 million (regional distribution system)
▢ Farmers: In principle, they get a share of their food production – approx. 8 million.

(2) Food situation by priority groups
▢Priority 1: Normal distribution or occasional reduction in rations
▢Priority 2: Reduced distribution
▢Priority 3: Relatively normal distribution to military facilities, reduced distributions or periodic termination of rations to state owned enterprises
▢Priority 4: No rations except for distribution of 2-3 days’ food for national holidays or traditional festivals.
▢Farmers: This group used to be relatively secure with food supplies but currently receive only 4-6 months worth of food due to increased confiscation of food for military personnel. Farmers are the largest group of people suffering from food shortages.
▢Among those in the priority 4 group (general workers), about 2 – 3 million people, except for those who trade goods at markets or small scale private farmers, suffer from severe food shortages reaching the level of starvation, and about half of all farmers have nothing more than porridge to eat, thus inching towards starvation. Prison inmates, handicapped people, orphans, and senior citizens are suffering from the same situation. Approximately one third of total North Korean population (6 – 8 million) is estimated to be suffering from severe malnutrition and on the brink of death due to starvation.

(3) North Korean food rationing policy
▢Top priority is assigned to priority groups 1 – 3, which forms the foundation for the national system, and national and enterprise units allocate food to them.
▢Recent reductions in, or occasional stoppages of, external food aid, part of which has been diverted to the military, has led to increased food confiscation from farmers, which has resulted in worsening food situation for farmers.
▢Priority 4, general workers, have lost some channels of food security due to crack-down on open markets (in the name of rooting out of anti-socialist trends) and confiscation of land from small scale farmers.
▢As a result, noticeable increases in malnutrition and deaths by starvation among disadvantaged people and farmers in the priority 4 group.

2. Objectives of Humanitarian Aid

1) Tasks for resolution of the humanitarian crisis

The South Korean government’s humanitarian aid in the past decade has helped prevent mass starvation deaths. However, such aid has tended to be insufficient to completely resolve humanitarian crisis at the root level. It was aimed at situation control from political viewpoint, and short-term oriented.

Therefore, South Korean government’s new policy on humanitarian aid for North Korea needs to aim at preparing for a fundamental solution to North Korean peoples’ food shortages. To this end, South Korean government needs to state clearly the principles for humanitarian aid for North Korea, pass a new law on North Korean humanitarian aid, and negotiate with North Korea for a fundamental resolution of the humanitarian crisis of North Korean people.

2) Principles of humanitarian aid: Humanitarian aid should continue in consideration of poor conditions

(1) People in North Korea are dying of starvation, suffering from serious diseases and malnutrition which caused children’s insufficient growth. As a neighbor, also as brethren, humanitarian aid is absolutely necessary to improve such a devastating situation.

(2) For the sake of international obligations and prestige, ROK government must not ignore serious humanitarian crisis as a neighboring country and also as brethren.

3) As a component of the (South Korean Government’s) unification policy

(1) To gain support from North Korean general population.
North Korean people are currently suffering from the lack of ability by North Korean communist party and government to guarantee the people’s survival. If North Korean population could survive with rice provided by South Korean government and South Korean people, their public sentiment would naturally favor South Korea. Therefore, it is a great opportunity to gain North Korean people’s support, which is the best preparation for unification.

(2) Acknowledgement from the International community
South Korea can increase the international community’s recognition of North Korea as a part of South Korea by taking full responsibility in providing aid that would ensure North Korean people’s survivability (this would ensure the international community’s support for South Korea in taking necessary actions if an emergency occurs).

★ The strategy of differentiating unification policies by class

In preparation for unification, it is important to expand friendly sentiment toward South Korea in North Korea, meet practical needs of the North Korean people, raise the North Korean people’s expectation for a hopeful future, and gain North Koreans’ support.
▢ The general civilian population (15 million): Survival is being threatened. → Massive food aid is needed for their sustenance.
▢ Middle class population: These people do not face survival challenges, however, they want higher quality necessities. (Important clientele for the future market) → South Korea’s supply of good necessities is required for dominating North Korean market.
▢ The governing class population: All of their basic needs are met → A guarantee of their legal and political status is essential.

3. How to provide aid?

1) Aid target
Priority distribution of food aid should be given to fragile class first including farmers and laborers (6 to 8 million out of the total 14 million), and the underprivileged such as orphans, senior citizens, and the disabled.

2) Accomplishment of humanitarian aid (The level of ensuring transparency)
(The guarantee that the aid helps overcome the humanitarian crisis)

(1) The level of transparency in terms of the international community
Currently, an office has been set up in Pyongyang and the resident staff of WFP is monitoring food aid distribution. They visit the smallest administrative units in areas where food aid is provided to inspect the status of distribution.

(2) The level of transparency guarantee monitored by the previous ROK administrations
For the past decade, ROK government checked and counted the aid that was shipped and unloaded only. This is because it was provided as a form of food loan, not as unconditional aid.

(3) Conditions of securing transparency
▢ Conversion of loans to unconditional aid
▢ While targeting the transparency up to the level of the WFP, the inspection of city or town-level ration points should be agreed initially and the range of inspection will be gradually expanded to smaller administrative units.

3) Items and quantities of humanitarian aid (provided by ROK government)

(1)Food ($500million)
Annual food shortages are about 1.8 to 2 million tons.
If up to about 400,000 tons of food is provided, that would be sufficient to cover only up to priority group 3. There would be nothing left for priority group 4 and below. (This coincides with testaments of North Korean defectors who are mostly general laborers and peasants, i.e., priority group 4). Therefore, at least over one million tons of food needs to be provided to North Korea annually over the next 3-5 years in order to ensure food distribution to general public.
▢ Aid items
Inexpensive items such as corn can be the primary aid item plus oversupply items in South Korea such as rice, noodles, instant noodle, oil, seasoning, and canned food.

(2) Fertilizer ($500 million)
The shortage of fertilizer per year reaches over 1 million tons. More than 500,000 tons of fertilizer needs to be provided annually.

(3) Medicine ($300 million)
Tuberculosis patients are rapidly increasing due to malnutrition. Simple diseases cannot be properly treated because of shortage of medicine and poor medical facilities.
- Supply of basic medicine
- Supply of basic medical equipments

(4) Supply of necessities for the Middle class ($300 million)
It is necessary to provide necessities including clothes, shoes, bags, stationeries, soap, and toothpaste. These necessities can be produced in Kaesong industrial complex and be sold at half the price of the production cost and be occupied more than 30% of the total goods sale in North Korean market. This way, it is expected to enhance the image of Korean products vis-à-vis Chinese goods. (The current proportion: 20% DPRK and 80% of China → In the future: 20% DPRK, 30% ROK, and 50% China)

▢ South Korean government should subsidize 50% of the production costs at the Kaesong industrial complex. Otherwise, North Korean people cannot buy South Korean products with their currently low purchasing power.

▢ Calculated at estimated cost per ton of $300 for corn, $600 for rice, $800 for fertilizer.
While fertilizer aid should be increased to boost the grain output, the amount of food aid should be decreased.

(5) The area that needs emergency aid other than humanitarian aid (US1 billion)
▢ Forestation → Make the Korean peninsula greener → planting 1 billion trees annually for 30 years → 30 billion trees.
▢ Prevention of flood, watercourse maintenance for river development → sand and gravel can be supplied to the South.
▢ Road maintenance → Even if paving cannot be done, at least maintenance needs to be done.
▢ Railroad maintenance → Accidents are frequent due to old systems. It is needed for trans-continent railroad system, too.
▢ Improvement of educational facilities → The shortage of school supplies including textbooks, notebooks and pencils. Unstable educational environment and absence of education thereby can be problematic after unification.

(6) South Korean government’s securing budget
▢ 1% of ROK government’s budget can be earmarked for the survival of North Korean people.(ROK government’s budget for the next year is 291.8 trillion won, equivalent to US$260 billion. Thus, 1% of that would be US$2.6 billion). North Korea people also have a right to be protected of their survival as Korean nationals guaranteed by the ROK Constitution.

▢ The National Assembly can legislate and the actual spending can be executed by the Ministry of Unification under the supervision of the National Assembly (humanitarian aid should be provided under a legalized system so that the aid can be provided consistently and continually under different government administrations).