A top United Nations representative on Wednesday repeated appeals for donations in order to carry out assistance to North Korea.
Speaking at a press conference in Pyongyang, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock said funding was the greatest obstacle his organization faces in assisting North Korea.
“Our top priority is to secure funding for the (2018) Needs and Priorities Plan,” Lowcock said, referencing a plan which calls for USD$111 million in spending for assistance to the DPRK.
But he said only 10% of these funds had been secured thus far, through donations from Canada, Sweden, and Switzerland.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) receives only 5% of its funding from the UN’s Regular Budget, requesting the remaining expenses be provided through voluntary donations of member states.
Its 2017 plan appealed for USD$113 million but received only 31% of the total asked for – including $5 million from Switzerland, $3 million from Russia, and $1 million from the United States.
Tapan Mishra, UN Resident Coordinator in North Korea, appealed in the “2018 DPR Korea Needs and Priorities Plan” for countries to “not to let political considerations get in the way” of their decision to donate.
The UN aid envoy will leave the DPRK on Thursday
Lowcock in Pyongyang yesterday said his North Korean counterparts were “keen to deal with humanitarian issues separately from political dynamics.”
“The core point is: there is a humanitarian need, we can meet it and we can tell people a convincing and persuasive story about how their money is used if they provide us with more funds,” he said.
A team of UN representatives led by Lowcock arrived in Pyongyang on Monday and has since held meetings with their North Korean counterparts and visited farms, kindergartens, nurseries, local hospitals, and other locations.
Lowcock spoke positively of North Korea’s progress on humanitarian issues since the famine of the 1990s, but also said there was still much to be done on such issues including “malnutrition, better water and sanitation, and more life-saving drugs and other medical supplies.”
“It is important to recognize that there has been lots of progress on things which are reducing humanitarian suffering,” he said, adding that there are, however, “large numbers of people who still need assistance.”
He said his North Korean counterparts expressed interest in further UN assistance and suggested ways of improving the process.
They also, he added, offered justification for the DPRK’s simultaneous use of international aid for humanitarian purposes and the spending of state funds on “economic development.”
The North Koreans reportedly said “it is completely consistent to have a strategy of developing the economy and being self-reliant, and in the meantime seeking assistance with life-saving work.”
Citing a recent UNICEF survey of 8500 households in the country facilitated by the North Korean government, Lowcock said 20% of the population was experiencing stunted development due to malnutrition and other health-related issues.
He also talked about a lack of medical supplies, specifically mentioning those needed for treating tuberculosis – an area which has in the past benefited from large donations by the Global Fund and assistance from organizations such as the Eugene Bell Foundation.
The Global Fund, however, pulled out of North Korea earlier this year, citing an inability to deploy resources or manage the “unique operating environment.”
Spokesperson for the Global Fund Seth Faison reiterated to the publication Science in June just before the grants officially stopped that their stance had not changed, adding they hoped “to re-engage with DPRK when the operating environment allows the access and oversight required.”
But both the UN and the World Food Programme (WFP) have expressed satisfaction with improving access this year, with Lowcock saying Wednesday in Pyongyang that there was “better access across the country for UN staff than we have had in the past.”
WFP director David Beasley, too, said after a visit to the North in May that his organization had “greater monitoring and greater access than any time period that I’m familiar with.”
But while Beasley also emphasized the need for greater access inside the country, Lowcock said this week he feels confident in the reliability of data coming from the DPRK, and that the UN is “able to give people assurances that funds given to us are well spent and save lives and reduce suffering.”
The visit by Lowcock’s delegation this week is the first by the OCHA since 2011, and follows a trip by UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman last December.
Lowcock and his team are expected to leave Pyongyang on Thursday.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: KCNA
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