Experts gathered Thursday to discuss the past and future of humanitarian aid for North Korea, with the aim of achieving sustainable and efficient support.
Both scholars and experienced hand-on workers argued that the ties between government and civil organizations should be improved, and that there should be a switch to a policy of cooperation rather than simply emergency relief.
“Without a long-term plan for 10-20 years, South Korea doesn’t have an independent policy on (aid) regardless of change of government, and should not treat humanitarian aid as a tool for negotiation with North Korea,” said Lee Joo-seong, the chief of the Korean NGO Council for Cooperation with North Korea.
The amount of humanitarian aid for North Korea reached its highest point of 439.7 billion won (about $400 million) in 2007 during the Roh Moo-hyun administration, and fell all the way to 14.1 billion won in 2012 during the term of President Lee Myung-bak.
“Regardless of political and military issues, sustainable aid should be ensured,” Lee said, suggesting an office in Pyongyang for continuous talks.
Sung Ki-young from the Korea Institute of National Unification spoke of miscommunication between the government and civil organizations.
“The Ministry of Unification considers the cooperation not compulsory but optional, and doesn’t regard them as a partner. On the other hand, civil society thinks of support from the government as interference.”
Sung said both sides should recognizes difference in opinions and communicate more frequently.
“The experiences of each organization need to be shared,” he added.
Kim Seong-geun from the Korea National Red Cross said that the Red Cross has been in an increasingly difficult position.
“Since 2008, the Red Cross has lost its role. It is neither of the government sector nor the private sector, but closely related to the government. North Korea recognized the Red Cross as a part of the government sector and rejected our aid.”
Since the bombardment of Yeonpyeong in 2010, the Korea National Red Cross has resumed aid through the International Red Cross.
“The international Red Cross has conducted aid projects in North Korea for more than 20 years by building trust. While cooperating with international society, the South Korean government should provide independent bilateral support to increase its role,” Kim said.
Kim showed the statistic that 18.8 percent of children under 5 in North Korea are underweight, stating that this needs to be addressed as part of preparations for the post-unification era.
Suh Doo-hyun, director of the Humanitarian Development Cooperation Division of the Ministry of Unification said the domestic consensus in South Korean society is not positive toward aid for North Korea.
Experts from civil organizations said that the MoU can make improvements in aid if it is determined to do so.
“There are countless projects that the government can embark on after coordinating with North Korea. Regular meetings are essential for efficient dialogue,” Kim said.
The conference was organized by the Ilmin International Relations Institute for the purpose of finding a comprehensive approach to unification, one which incorporates actors ranging from NGOs to neighboring countries to international organizations.
Featured image: Ha-young Choi