The South Korean government on Thursday approved plans to send over USD$8 million in humanitarian aid to North Korea via international organizations, the Ministry of Unification (MOU) announced.
The unification ministry will provide USD$4.5 million to the World Food Program (WFP) for projects providing nutrition-enhancing foods for children in daycare facilities and pediatric wards, as well as for pregnant women.
Seoul will also provide USD$3.5 million for aid projects run by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which will provide health and medical treatment for children and pregnant women, as well as treatments for malnutrition.
The decision was made at the 286th Inter-Korean Exchanges and Cooperation Promotion Council, with unification minister Cho Myong-gyon in attendance.
The MOU said the aid was approved based on the government’s position that “humanitarian aid is continuously pursued as being separated from political situations to improve the humanitarian situation and quality of life of North Korean people.”
“We will proceed with [deciding] the actual timing and size of aid considering comprehensively the overall conditions including the inter-Korean relations.”
“Through this support, we expect that the humanitarian situation of vulnerable groups in North Korea will be improved by preventing diseases of North Korean children, treating malnourished children, and strengthening nutrition of pregnant women.”
The MOU said the UN agencies will provide supplies, not cash, including medicine and nourishing foods for children, and that there is “virtually no possibility” that the aid will be misused.
Humanitarian aid to the DPRK will resume in around 21 months.
The Lee Myung-bak and the Park government did not send humanitarian aid through international organizations in 2010 and 2016, but did provide funding, via international organizations and third parties, between 2011 and 2015 – with funding peaking in 2014 at KRW14.1 billion (USD$12,445,788).
The announcement earlier in the month by the MOU provoked strong domestic opposition, and prompted Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga to ask Seoul to avoid actions that might undermine international efforts to pressure Pyongyang.
Japan reiterated this sentiment on Thursday, with Suga telling press that actions “that would undermine” strengthening pressures on North Korea should be avoided.
“We’d like to request the South Korean government to cautiously take the action,” Suga told media during a regular briefing, suggesting that Seoul’s decisions could affect the international community’s response to North Korea.
An MOU spokesperson on September 15 said that new United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions had increased the need for Seoul to send humanitarian aid to the North and that Article 26 of UNSC resolution 2375 permitted the assistance.
Karin Hulshof, UNICEF Regional Director for East Asia and the Pacific, issued a statement on Wednesday calling for more humanitarian aid to the DPRK.
“The children of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea have long been invisible to much of the world, but the challenges they face are all too real — and the need to reach them is urgent,” the statement read.
“We do this work without regard to politics. Children are children. They do not have politics. And they do not deserve to suffer for situations entirely beyond their control,” she said, adding North Korean children “are no exception.”
Hulshof said around 200,000 children are suffered from “acute malnutrition, heightening their risk of death and increasing rates of stunting,” and that around 350,000 children under five remain unvaccinated against life-threatening diseases.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: DPRK UNICEF
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