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Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
South Korea’s Ministry of Unification (MOU) on Tuesday said Seoul would need to send a planned shipment of humanitarian food aid to North Korea by September, in comments that come as local civic and religious organizations say they will seek to provide “emergency” supplies to the DPRK soon.
Seoul last week officially confirmed plans for the provision of food to North Korea following a report by the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) claiming 10.1 million North Korean people were “in urgent need of food assistance.”
The food situation “could further deteriorate during the lean season from May to September,” it continued, “if no proper and urgent humanitarian actions are taken.”
That report also “stated that the period between May and September ahead of the next harvest season in the fall is the time when assistance is needed,” an MOU official who wished to remain anonymous noted to media on Tuesday
When asked if there was any timeline to Seoul’s plans for humanitarian assistance to the North, the official said Seoul needs to provide food aid “between May and September based on that evaluation.”
“The request of the WFP is to deliver it by September to urgently meet the needs of beneficiaries.”
WFP Executive Director David Beasley had, however, not made any requests on the “specific scale” of humanitarian assistance to the North during a meeting with Minister of Unification Kim Yeon-chul on Monday in Seoul, the MOU official said.
The scale of humanitarian aid would differ from Seoul’s 2017 plans to provide $4.5 million to the WFP for projects including, among other things, aimed at providing nutrition-enhancing foods for children in daycare facilities and pediatric wards, they added.
The Moon Jae-in administration in September that year approved plans to send over $8 million to the North via international organizations, the plans have been scrapped after extended postponement.
“It seems natural that WFP makes an updated request which is different from what it was two years ago,” the official said Tuesday.
Seoul now appears to be scrambling to provide the food assistance to North Korea, with the ROK unification minister having on Tuesday met local civic and religious groups to gather public opinion on sending the aid to the DPRK.
The Korea NGO Council for Cooperation with North Korea (KNCCK), the Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation (KCRC), and the Korea Conference of Religions for Peace (KCRP) held a news conference Tuesday morning ahead of their meeting with the minister.
In a statement, the three non-governmental and religious organizations urged the South Korean government and the public to “urgently” provide humanitarian food assistance to the North.
“We urge the government to provide active cooperation and support for the shipment of supplies and a visit to North Korea so that food aid can proceed at the civilian-level smoothly,” the appeal read. “We will deliver [food aid] to North Korean citizens through support funds from all walks of life and national donations.”
The groups also said they will push forward with a plan to provide “emergency food assistance,” asking the Moon Jae-in government to take a “more flexible stance” on the issue.
With regard to the issue, KCRC chairman Kim Hong-gul said the public and private sectors should consult and cooperate to provide food assistance to the DPRK, saying civic groups would need to take the initiative in supplying aid amid a broader diplomatic impasse between Seoul and Pyongyang.
“If the government cannot directly send food, I think it can make shipment through a civic group while saving the face of the North Korean government,” Kim told the press conference, saying the governmentg would need a “flexible stance” in light of the current humanitarian issues in the North.
The logistics and scale of the aid have not yet been decided, he said, explaining that the group would flesh out a plan after meeting minister Kim later in the day, as well as after holding working-level talks with the North’s Consultative Council for National Reconciliation (CCNR) in late May.
“The North Korean side has not made any official request on humanitarian food aid, but we indirectly heard that the issue will be raised during the working-level meeting,” he said.
KNCCK chairman Lee Gi-beom, in turn, said a flexible stance would be required to expand the type of foodstuffs to be sent, stressing the need to provide rice and, particularly, soybean oil and milk for children’s development.
South Korean civic groups were last year only permitted to provide flour to the North.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured Image: WFP/Silke Buhr