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View more articles by Dagyum Ji
Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) was in April granted a humanitarian exemption from international sanctions allowing the transfer of items including high-tech medical equipment and computers to North Korea, the website of the Security Council’s 1719 committee revealed this week.
Much of the equipment will go towards UNICEF’s work in the DPRK on the health, nutrition, and water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) program, which aims to deliver safe water to communities and provide “effective treatment” for hospitalized people — in particular to malnourished children and mothers.
The shipment of the items and services — worth $5,753,940 in total — needs to be completed within the next six months, a letter from 1718 committee chair Christoph Heusgen to UNICEF informing them of the approval said.
The plans will now see UNICEF deliver operating theater equipment to the DPRK, including an electrocardiogram, an oxygen concentrator, and ultrasound scanners, as well as vaccine cold chain equipment and laboratory test kits for tuberculosis (TB) diagnosis.
The aid organization is also set to deliver items including LDC projectors and motor bicycles from China to Sinuiju, DPRK, along with electronic devices such as laptop and video cameras.
The exemption — granted just two weeks after UNICEF’s request on April 3 — is the organization’s second on humanitarian grounds this year.
January saw the UN sanctions committee grant an exemption allowing UNICEF to deliver a shipment of items aimed at combating tuberculosis and malaria and its immunization program.
The exemption is also the 21st to be granted by the 1718 committee this year, coming just a week after the U.S.-based Love North Korea Missions (LNKM) was given permission to transfer items aims at improving access to clean drinking water in the Rason region.
It remains unclear why the UN chose to wait two months to make the exemption public, however.
UNICEF’s Humanitarian Action for Children 2019 plan in January warned of a major fall in funding since 2015, stressing that 2.59 million North Korean children were in desperate need of humanitarian aid.
The group this year requested a total of $19.5 million to meet the humanitarian needs of North Korean children, with the nutrition, health, and WASH sectors accounting for, respectively, 50.3, 20, and 29.7 percent of the required funds.
News of the exemption, too, comes amid growing concerns about the humanitarian situation in the DPRK, with the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) claiming earlier this month that 10.1 million North Korean people were “in urgent need of food assistance.”
In response, the South Korean government on Friday announced that it would push ahead with a long-stalled plan to provide $8 million in humanitarian aid to the DPRK.
The funds will be funneled into UNICEF’s maternal and child health care projects and the WFP’s nutrition support projects for children and pregnant women.
In its April country brief, the WFP also said it would be running additional projects that month, including the distribution of fortified food to TB patients in provincial hospitals.
It also reported that it had begun the production of fortified biscuits for North Korean children, following the project’s temporary suspension last year “due to funding shortfalls.”
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: UNICEF