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Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
South Korea has since the opening of an inter-Korean liaison office last month been providing water for North Koreans living in the Kaesong area, the Ministry of Unification (MOU) confirmed on Wednesday.
To provide water for the now-shuttered Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) and local residents, the unification minister said, Seoul was managing purification plants and distribution stations drawing water from the nearby Wolgo Reservoir.
The treatment plants can produce up to 60,000 tons on a daily basis, according to the database provided by the Korea Land and Housing Corporation (LH).
Seoul previously provided 45,000 and 15,000 tons to the inter-Korean industrial park and Kaesong city residents before the Park administration closed the KIC in February 2016.
The South Korean unification ministry confirmed that Seoul had begun supplying water in tandem with the opening of the inter-Korean liaison office in September.
The ROK government refurbished water treatment plants and distribution stations in the run-up to the opening of the liaison office, spokesperson Baik Tae-hyun told a regular press briefing.
Baik said Seoul and Pyongyang had agreed to use the Wolgo Reservoir for the supply of water for the Kaesong city.
“There is a chance that the North also will stop pumping waters from the Wolgo Reservoir to water treatment plants and distribution stations if we suspend the supply for the Kaesong city,” he said.
“There are also humanitarian considerations, given the situation that residents at the Kaesong city rely on purification plants and distribution stations within the Kaesong Industrial Complex for water.”
The MOU said the Wolgo Reservoir has long been a source of water for local residents, and that the South has been providing between 1000 to 2000 tons for the liaison office and relevant facilities and around 15,000 tons for Kaesong city.
Though costs of electricity and chemicals have reportedly increased as the scale of water purification and distribution has grown, the MOU said there has been no “significant increase of expense” by supplying water for residents.
Providing water for the liaison office was not in violation of UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions, the unification ministry added, though it didn’t comment on the legality of distributing water to North Korean residents.
“The supply of materials, equipment, power supply and related facilities and utilization of relevant facilities aims to guarantee the smooth operation of the liaison office and convenience for personnel,” Baik said.
“It doesn’t provide any economic benefit for North Korea, and therefore it doesn’t undermine the purpose of sanctions.”
Baik also reiterated Seoul’s position that the liaison office would “contribute to promoting nuclear negotiations by creating a ’round-the-clock communication system.’”
When asked if Seoul and Washington have discussed the issue, the unification ministry said both sides have held “close consultations” over the issue.
The unification ministry also denied that the measures were linked to any plans to open the KIC.
“It is irrelevant to the reoperation of the Kaesong Industrial Complex,” Baik said, stressing that the two Koreas had agreed to normalize the KIC and Mount Kumgang tourism only when “conditions mature.”
When contacted by NK News, the Korea Water Resources Corporation (K-Water) acknowledged that it had set up a new team to provide water to Kaesong.
An official at K-Water who wished to remain anonymous, however, said the team was established to facilitate the work of the liaison office.
Despite the two Koreas opening the liaison office a month ago, Seoul’s confirmation today followed an exclusive report by local newspaper Hankook Ilbo on the resumption of the water supply.
During the briefing, Baik denied the Moon administration had attempted to “cover up” the issue.
The South Korean government originally cut off the water supply to Kaesong in February 2016, having decreased the supply to the industrial complex and city in the wake of drought the previous year.
Edited by Oliver Hotham