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Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
A UN Committee has added to the growing list of approvals recently for humanitarian activities in North Korea, granting two more this week for agencies carrying out water sanitation projects in the DPRK.
The two organizations, World Vision International (WVI) and Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation-linked Swiss Humanitarian Aid (SHA), received approval of humanitarian exemption requests by the 1718 Sanctions Committee in letters dated January 31.
Following requests made in November and December respectively, both WVI and SHA will now be able to complete shipments of items mostly related to water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) projects in North Korea.
WVI received approval to ship cement, iron bar, pipes, valves, a generator set, and a variety of tools for a WASH project in Sobaeksan village, Samjiyon County.
The target of the project lies near the major government vanity project renovating the entire town of Samjiyon, and has been mentioned in state media as part of the “sacred” land surrounding Samjiyon and Mt. Paektu.
Despite the attention on Sobaeksan, however, the government has still apparently failed to equip the town with proper facilities, requiring the assistance of international aid organizations.
SHA’s approval allows shipments for a “solar pump drinking water supply system” in Ryonggung-ri, North Hwanghae Province and “gabion wire for flood protection of affected population” in North and South Hwanghae Provinces.
Those areas continue to deal with the aftermath of major floods late last summer, which left dozens dead, thousands displaced, and where residents “remain highly vulnerable” according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).
The total cost of items for the solar pump system, which includes 42 solar panels, is listed in the approval letter’s appendix as USD$26,952, while the gabion wire project comprises 53 metric tons of galvanized iron wire costing 63,600 euros, to be shipped from a warehouse in the Chinese border city of Dandong.
WVI’s list of items did not include prices or shipment method information.
Both approval letters requested the organizations complete the shipments “within the next six months,” either all at once or “in a consolidated manner.”
The UN committee reiterated what it has said in approvals for other organizations this month that “the sanctions measures imposed by the Security Council through its resolutions with respect to the DPRK are not intended to bear a negative impact on the people of the DPRK.”
They come, however, following a trend in the last couple of years by aid organizations complaining that shipments of items to be used for humanitarian purposes in North Korea were being held up due to sanctions.
But the tide appears to have shifted following the U.S. announcement last December that it would review its sanctions policy to help facilitate more humanitarian exemptions, as well as an additional push in January to ease the process at the UN level.
The exemptions for SHA and WVI bring the total to seven in January alone, with the previous approvals mainly for tuberculosis treatment, a project addressing malnutrition, and another revealed last week for the treatment of children with disabilities.
One for UNICEF also included items for WASH projects to “deliver safe water supply” in Kosong, Myonggan, and Samjiyon counties.
UNICEF’s website says the “delivery and maintenance of WASH infrastructure and services remains a challenge across the country… especially for children in rural areas and children in institutions.”
It also said that only “50 per cent of schools and health facilities and 38 per cent of nurseries lack adequate water and sanitation facilities,” and cites their 2017 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) which found that “only 61 per cent of households have access to safely managed water services.”
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: World Vision International