The South Korean government on Wednesday passed a bill approving $8 million in humanitarian aid to North Korea via UN agencies, the Ministry of Unification (MOU) announced.
The bill was reviewed and passed at the 305th meeting of the Inter-Korean Exchange and Cooperation Promotion Council held over the last few days, the MOU said, with the funds set to be drawn from the Inter-Korean Cooperation Fund (IKCF) and sent to the World Food Program (WFP) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
The approval comes less than three weeks after the standing committee of Seoul’s presidential National Security Council (NSC) announced it would push ahead with long-stalled plans to send millions in funds to the two organizations.
A total of $4.5 million is set to be funneled into the WFP’s nutrition support program, including on the procurement of food materials, while $3.5 million will be provided to the UNICEF’s maternal and child health care project.
The allocation is almost identical to that originally approved in September 2017.
The WFP’s projects aim to distribute nutrition-enhancing food for infants and pregnant and lactating women at day care centers, orphanages, and pediatric wards in 60 counties of nine DPRK provinces.
Using the funds from Seoul, UNICEF plans to provide a therapeutic diet and basic essential medicine kits, as well as micronutrient mixes targeting children and pregnant and lactating women.
The unification ministry on Wednesday said a deteriorating food situation in the North necessitated the funds.
The MOU also pointed to a joint food security assessment compiled by the WFP and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) last month, in which UN organizations working on the ground claimed that 10.1 million in the DPRK were food insecure.
“International organizations including the WFP asked for active support as they have concerns about the decline in the quality of life of the vulnerable in North Korean, which is caused by the recent decrease in international aid to North Korea,” the MOU said.
Speaking during a press briefing with foreign media on Tuesday, South Korean unification minister Kim Yeon-chul said the two Koreas had not discussed the issue of humanitarian aid prior to Seoul’s May announcement that it planned to send the funds.
Following Seoul’s announcement, however, North Korean external-oriented outlets dismissed humanitarian aid as a “non-essential and secondary issue” in improving bilateral relations.
Wednesday’s decision is noteworthy: statistics provided by the MOU show that South Korea sent no government-level humanitarian aid to North Korea via international organizations in 2017 and 2018.
2015 saw the Park Geun-hye administration provide $2.1 and 4 million, respectively, to the WFP and the UNICEF, according to the MOU figures.
The ROK government last provided humanitarian assistance via international organizations in December 2015, when $800,000 worth of aid was sent via the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)’s Socio-Economic, Demographic and Health Survey.
In spite of Wednesday’s decision, Seoul is yet to formally flesh out separate plans to provide food aid to the North — plans officially confirmed by the MOU early last month.
Tuesday saw unification minister Kim tell press the South has “continued detailed discussions with the WFP” over the shipment.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: UNICEF
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