U.N. hopes to bol­ster aid to N. Korea

Amid re­gional op­ti­mism, agency seeks additional funding for food pro­gram

The Washington Post Sunday - - THE WORLD - BY SIMON DENYER simon.denyer@wash­post.com

beijing — The head of the United Na­tions World Food Pro­gram (WFP) says he en­coun­tered a re­mark­able sense of op­ti­mism on a trip to North Korea this past week and said he hoped donors would re­spond by pro­vid­ing more funding to help feed the coun­try’s chil­dren.

Vis­it­ing the coun­try for the first time — just a month be­fore Pres­i­dent Trump is due to meet North Korea leader Kim Jong Un in Sin­ga­pore — David Beasley said he hoped North Korea’s chil­dren would be the ben­e­fi­cia­ries of what he called “this new spirit.”

“I do be­lieve ev­ery­one wants to open a new chap­ter in world his­tory, turn the page and look to a brighter fu­ture,” he said in an in­ter­view in Beijing on Satur­day. “My thoughts are: Let’s not throw cold wa­ter on that. Let’s try to keep the mo­men­tum going.”

WFP es­ti­mates that more than 10 mil­lion of North Korea’s 24.8 mil­lion peo­ple are un­der­nour­ished, with 1 in 3 young moth­ers and chil­dren un­der age 5 suf­fer­ing from ane­mia. It feeds about 500,000 women and chil­dren ev­ery month, in­clud­ing with por­ridge and high-en­ergy bis­cuits, but says its food aid pro­gram is “se­verely un­der­funded.”

The sanc­tions agreed to by the United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Council al­low for hu­man­i­tar­ian aid to flow into the coun­try through U.N. agencies, on the con­di­tion that the United Na­tions mon­i­tors the aid to en­sure it is not di­verted to the gov­ern­ment or mil­i­tary.

But many coun­tries are skep­ti­cal about send­ing aid to a coun­try — ex­cept in ex­treme cir­cum­stances — that could ul­ti­mately serve to sup­port the regime or in­di­rectly al­low it to spend more money on its nu­clear and mis­sile pro­gram. WFP of­fi­cials are also not given full ac­cess to the coun­try to prop­erly es­tab­lish its hu­man­i­tar­ian needs.

But Beasley, a for­mer Repub­li­can gov­er­nor of South Carolina, said he had been given greater ac­cess than many of his pre­de­ces­sors, spend­ing two days of his four-day trip vis­it­ing vil­lages and meet­ing farm­ers, teach­ers, cooks and moth­ers, in­clud­ing a six-hour trip from Py­ongyang to the Chi­nese bor­der, with many stops.

It’s spring­time, and he said he had seen men and women ev­ery­where in the fields, work­ing with their hands, with oxen, rakes, hoes and shov­els, and very lit­tle mech­a­niza­tion. Ev­ery avail­able inch of land, in­clud­ing even road em­bank­ments, ap­peared to be un­der cul­ti­va­tion, not­ing what he called an “in­cred­i­ble work ethic.”

Droughts, floods and gov­ern­ment poli­cies com­bined to cre­ate famine in the 1990s that killed hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple, and although the sit­u­a­tion has im­proved sig­nif­i­cantly since then, rains were poor last sea­son, he said.

The largely moun­tain­ous coun­try also suf­fers from a short­age of arable land, Beasley said, with only 15 to 20 per­cent of land avail­able for cul­ti­va­tion. That creates a prob­lem feed­ing the na­tion’s chil­dren.

“They are not starv­ing,” he said, “but they are not get­ting the nutri­tion they need for proper mental and phys­i­cal de­vel­op­ment.”

Beasley said he had held frank dis­cus­sions with North Korean of­fi­cials in Py­ongyang about the need to grant WFP staff greater ac­cess and more data about nutri­tion, telling them, “We can’t help you un­less you help us.”

In the past, he said, of­fi­cials may have been hes­i­tant to speak to peo­ple from the out­side world, but Beasley said he had been “pleas­antly sur­prised” by the open­ness he en­coun­tered and a will­ing­ness to learn from WFP’s ex­per­tise.

“The good news is we are on the road in the right di­rec­tion; the tough news is that we started at a pretty dif­fi­cult point,” he said. “It’s been said we had bet­ter ac­cess than any­one else, but that ac­cess has still been very lim­ited.”

WFP’s food aid pro­gram to North Korea counts Switzer­land, Rus­sia, Canada, France and Liecht­en­stein as its prin­ci­pal donors, but se­ri­ous un­der­fund­ing forced it to shrink ra­tions in Fe­bru­ary 2017 and, since Novem­ber, leave 190,000 chil­dren in kin­der­garten with­out nu­tri­tional sup­port.

Beasley said he hoped the peace process and the lift­ing of sanc­tions would de­liver “a brighter fu­ture for the chil­dren of North Korea,” he said.

“When one child suf­fers — it doesn’t mat­ter what coun­try they are in — we all pay a cost for that,” he said. “The chil­dren of the DPRK have the same hopes, the same dreams, the same rights as any chil­dren around the world, and the needs are great,” he added, us­ing the ini­tials of the coun­try’s of­fi­cial name.

But in Beijing, not ev­ery­one is con­vinced.

“If the food sit­u­a­tion is now de­te­ri­o­rat­ing in North Korea, North Korea should spend its bud­get help­ing the peo­ple, in­clud­ing chil­dren, in­stead of spend­ing its re­sources for its nu­clear and mis­sile pro­grams,” said one diplo­mat, who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause the diplo­mat was not au­tho­rized to be quoted by name.


North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, cen­ter, in­spects food grown by a farm at an undis­closed lo­ca­tion in North Korea.

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