The South Korean government is considering sending food aid to North Korea before the harvest season at the request of a UN agency that called on the international community to support Pyongyang, which is facing its worst food crisis in 10 years, a ministry official said Tuesday.
Citing a recent joint report from the World Food Program and the Food and Agriculture Organization on North Korea’s food situation, a Unification Ministry official said May to September would be an appropriate time to provide humanitarian food assistance to the North.
“The WFP requested sending humanitarian aid before September, given that humanitarian assistance is meant to meet the (urgent needs) of the beneficiary,” the official told reporters.
The rough timeline came after WFP Executive Director David Beasley met on Monday with President Moon Jae-in as well as the ministers of unification and foreign affairs.
Beasley expressed his deep concern about food shortages in the North, which faces its worst harvest in 10 years this year due to prolonged dry spells and abnormally high temperatures, coupled with limited supplies of agricultural inputs. These factors have left the country with a food deficit of 1.36 million metric tons.
During the meeting with Beasley, Moon pledged contributions for those in need in the international community, including humanitarian support for North Korea, despite its short-range missiles launches May 4 and May 9.
According to the UN agencies’ Joint Rapid Food Security Assessment, released May 3, some 10.1 million North Koreans, or 40 percent of the population, are food insecure and in urgent need of food assistance.
“The situation could further deteriorate during the lean season from May to September, if no proper and urgent humanitarian actions are taken,” it said.
While the government appears to be leaning toward sending rice through an international organization, it has kept the door open to providing direct assistance.
“The merit of offering humanitarian aid via international organizations is their distribution and monitoring system as well as the fact that they have offices and staff residing in Pyongyang,” the ministry official said.
He added that past government-level food aid to Pyongyang had been provided when the two Koreas agreed on it.
Starting Tuesday, the Unification Ministry began assessing public opinion, which it intends to take into consideration when deciding on the timing, method and amount of the food aid. Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul met with civic group leaders and religious leaders to listen to their thoughts on the government’s plans to send food assistance to North Korea.
However, it is unclear whether Pyongyang is willing to accept Seoul’s help, as the two sides have yet to discuss the issue.
North Korea’s attitude toward the WFP officials and its state-run newspaper hint at the desperate situation in the North.
The WFP chief said the North Korean officials had given field workers “unprecedented” access to the nutrition and food security situation there.
On Tuesday, North Korea’s mouthpiece paper the Rodong Sinmun said crops were dying in regions suffering drought and called for “revolutionary measures” to fight a sharp drop in precipitation.
“The struggle to prevent damage from drought is a fierce battle against nature to protect socialism,” the newspaper said.
By Park Han-na (email@example.com