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Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is set to deliver a range of humanitarian goods to North Korea after receiving an exemption from the UN Security Council (UNSC) committee in charge of sanctions for North Korea last week.
Thousands of items approved on June 11 for delivery will contribute to ICRC projects in “physical rehabilitation, support to health care, peri-urban water supply, and support to the DPRK Red Cross Society emergency response,” according to the UN 1718 Committee.
Included are over 45,000 PVC water taps and related components, including many metal items such as nuts and bolts, and piping considered “industrial machinery” – all prohibited for export to North Korea under UNSC sanctions passed at the end of 2017.
Also included are wheelchairs, medical items such as 4000 scalpels, 2500 solar LED lamps, and 24 computers for use at ICRC offices in North Korea.
The items will be delivered in three separate shipments, with many “water and habitat” items sourced from Chinese companies Foshan Liansu Building Material Trading Co. and Dandong Jili Trading Co. to be sent first by sea from Dalian to Nampho port.
A second shipment by sea will also include physical rehabilitation-related items sourced from Antwerp, while a third including health equipment and computers from Geneva will be shipped by air to Beijing and then on to Pyongyang.
Head of the ICRC mission in Pyongyang Thierry Ribaux previously expressed concerns that humanitarian exemptions may be affected by the failure of North Korea and the U.S. to reach a deal at the Hanoi summit in February.
“I do hope that this will not reflect on the implementation of the sanctions — i.e. that humanitarian exemptions will continue to be at least granted in line with the text and the spirit of the U.N. resolution,” he told South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency in an interview in March.
He also told China’s The Global Times in February that “a more strict enforcement of the sanctions regime might make the running of humanitarian operations more complicated.”
In its annual report for 2018 released this week, the ICRC said that “access to water, medical care and physical rehabilitation” – the three areas addressed in the latest package of items exempted for delivery – “remained precarious in the DPRK, owing to dilapidated infrastructure and an unreliable power supply.”
“International humanitarian actors had difficulty in delivering aid to people in need, because of the UN sanctions and government-imposed restrictions on all foreign entities in the country,” it added.
The report detailed plans to install water pumps in the Unhak quarter of Kaesong, and said work “digging wells in Sunchon and constructing a pumping station in Jongpyong” continued, but that “a feasibility study on alternative sources of energy did not push through, owing to technical complexities.”
A section on work to improve physical rehabilitation in the DPRK said centers in Rakrang and Songrim “continued to receive raw materials and components from the ICRC, which enabled them to produce 1,666 prostheses, 108 orthoses, 1,171 walking aids, and 54 wheelchairs.”
Many of these raw items are included in the list under the latest sanctions exemption as well.
The 2018 report also said “infrastructure renovations were completed at the Songrim centre,” and that “general maintenance work” such as roof repairs were carried out at the Rakrang center.
As for healthcare equipment, it said the ICRC “renovated X-ray rooms and donated X-ray machines to two hospitals: one in Hamhung, and another in Kaesong,” in addition to training local staff in emergency response care.
The Geneva-based organization says on its website that it has seven international and 18 North Korean staff working in DPRK, and that it partners with the national Red Cross Society and relevant government departments in order to carry out its work.
Other areas of focus in North Korea include legacy issues of the Korean War, such as helping restore contact between separated families, bomb-disposal education, and blast-trauma management.
Earlier this month, Yonhap reported that the ICRC distributed posters to thousands of schools in North Korea to educate children on the types of unexploded ordnances they may come across and their dangers.
In January, the ICRC also helped organize a trip to Cambodia for a North Korean Ministry of People’s Security delegation for education on “concepts and best practices on usage of magnetometers used for detection of unexploded ordnance (UXO)” and training in “medical blast trauma care and general risk awareness.”
The ICRC’s work is separate from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), which received an exemption from the UN for a similar range of items in February.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: KCNA