Despite ongoing food shortages, North Korea has announced that it will no longer accept humanitarian food aid as of the end of 2005. It has instructed the World Food Program and other international and non-governmental organizations to withdraw all or most of their staff from the country.
The U.S. has provided more than two million tons of agricultural commodities to North Korea through the World Food Program over the last decade, including a pledge of fifty-thousand metric tons for 2005. U.S. assistance is provided on the basis of three criteria -- demonstrated need, competing needs elsewhere, and the ability to ensure that assistance reaches those for whom it is intended.
The presence of monitors is crucial to the ability to provide such humanitarian assistance. Unfortunately, the policies of the communist regime in Pyongyang have helped create food shortages and famine conditions since the mid-1990s. Hundreds of thousands are thought to have died from hunger in the mid- 1990s -- some estimate as many as two million people.
Conditions have improved since then, thanks in part to international aid. But the effects of chronic malnutrition continue to be reflected in surveys of North Korean children. Jan Egeland is the United Nations Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief:
"Forty-percent of the [North Korean] children are stunted – lower height for the age for what is normal. Twenty percent are still underweight."
North Korea has said it expects a successful harvest this year, and it is receiving five-hundred-thousand tons of food directly from South Korea. But chronic malnutrition and food shortages are anticipated to continue. The U.S. and other nations remain ready to provide assistance to help alleviate the suffering of the North Korean people. But this will require cooperation by the North Korean government, including allowing international staff to assess needs and monitor the assistance to ensure that it gets to the intended recipients.
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.