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Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
The South Korean government has decided to push ahead with plans to provide over $8 million in humanitarian aid to North Korea via international organizations, the country’s Ministry of Unification (MOU) announced on Friday.
The plans will see Seoul provide $8 million to the World Food Program (WFP) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) for projects providing nutritional support for children and pregnant women, among others.
The Moon Jae-in administration on Friday reiterated the need for “continuing humanitarian assistance for the North Korean people regardless of the political situation,” the MOU said in a written statement.
The decision to send the aid, the MOU said, was made at the meeting of the standing committee of the National Security Council (NSC), presided over by director of the presidential National Security Office (NSO) Chung Eui-yong.
It followed a review by government officials of a report by the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) issued earlier in the month, which claimed that 10.1 million North Korean people were “in urgent need of food assistance.”
The move also comes amid growing concern over what appears to be a worsening drought in the North, with ruling party organ the Rodong Sinmun reporting on Friday that average nationwide precipitation in the DPRK between January to mid-May was at its lowest since 1917.
Plans for humanitarian aid to the North have been put on hold since their approval in September 2017, when Seoul decided to allocate $4.5 million and $3.5 million to the WFP and UNICEF respectively.
Unification ministry spokesperson Lee Sang-min on Monday told a special briefing that Seoul will push forward with humanitarian aid for children and pregnant women “swiftly, considering the urgency” of the situation.
Lee explained that the government would obey the typical protocol for such projects, and, as the decision was originally made two years ago, will seek approval from the Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Promotion Council.
Seoul has previously expressed some reservations over sending humanitarian food assistance to the North, however.
The timing of the move, too, will likely raise eyebrows, coming as it does just over a week after Pyongyang conducted what it described as a “long-range strike” drill off its west coast — its second such test this month.
“We will review concrete aid plans such as assistance through international organizations or direct assistance to the North while sufficiently collecting public opinion on the issue of the food aid to North Korea,” the MOU said in its Friday statement.
The decision notably follows comments by the Blue House’s Chung Eui-yong earlier in the day that the “government’s concrete plan on provision of the food will be open to the public before long.”
Chung said Friday morning that the government “has already finalized the principle of food aid to North Korea, and been in preparation for various means on how to proceed with it.”
Seoul last week officially confirmed plans to provide food aid to North Korea, just days after U.S. President Donald Trump was reported to have given South Korean President Moon Jae-in an informal green light for the shipment to the DPRK.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: World Food Programme