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Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
The Danish aid organization Mission East was granted a sanctions exemption this week for its ongoing work to address food shortages in North Korea, the UN reported Thursday.
Granted on November 6 by the 1718 Committee in charge of managing UN Security Council sanctions on the DPRK, the exemption will allow Mission East to bring otherwise-prohibited large agricultural machinery into North Korea.
Their work, according to the exemption letter, is “aimed at providing vulnerable populations suffering from acute food shortage with lifesaving assistance.”
It will “allow for the procurement and import of agricultural machinery into the DPRK required for the project entitled ‘Improving Food Security for Vulnerable Families in Rural DPRK’ with the overarching objective to improve the food security of the cooperative farm Chimgyo Ri in North Hwanghae Province.”
The annex of the exemption listed the following items that are expected to be delivered within the next six months: three rice threshers, two rice processors/millers, four maize shellers, three maize mills, and an assortment of steel bars, pvc piping, and other construction materials to be used to build storage rooms and greenhouses.
Their request was initially made on October 7.
Mission East says on its official website that it has been working in North Korea since 2011, and that it opened an office in Pyongyang this past summer as the “first resident Danish NGO in DPRK,” with two employees stationed there.
“The new office means that Mission East can be more engaged in ongoing projects and react faster to the needs of the populations we support with future initiatives,” it says.
Describing its work in North Korea since 2011, the organization says it first focused primarily on providing direct food assistance to “children through kindergartens, nurseries, orphanages and pediatric hospitals.”
In addition, it says that “three orphanages in the country’s southern Hwanghae province received regular support for several years, including protein supplements, clothing, stimulating toys and stationery.”
“In recent years, the projects in North Korea have had more long-term aims, such as improving food security and water supply for the rural population,” it continues, adding that projects now include reforestation and other work to aid in disaster prevention.
Its upcoming import of heavy agricultural machinery also appears aimed at helping their partners become self-sustained, as well as highlighting a focus on food shortages due to what it says have been droughts, floods, and the government reducing food rations.
Mission East’s country director for North Korea is Sakari Koivula, who “knows North Korea from his previous position as Country Director in FIDA, the Finnish sister organization,” according to a news release on the opening of the Pyongyang office.
The new Pyongyang office allows him to “oversee the projects more often and partly develop new projects together with the North Korean authorities and the international community,” it added.
Speaking on the organization’s work in North Korea, Mission East General Secretary Kim Hartzner was quoted in the same release as saying the office marks an “important step towards increasing the assistance to the North Korean population, which is characterized by long-term malnutrition.”
“Mission East’s food assistance and assistance to sustainable and climate-adapted agriculture are absolutely crucial. Not only do we provide emergency assistance as needed, but we also strengthen local village communities so that they can feed themselves,” he added.
The exemption is the first from the UN since the one received by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) late last month — part of a string of exemptions from the UN sanctions committee which began to be granted at the beginning of this year.
This initially came as a result of the U.S. apparently responding to backlash from the humanitarian assistance community, following what was previously a policy of much stricter enforcement.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: Mission East