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South Korea Donates to North Korea

South Korea Donates
Four years have passed since investigators discovered major fragments of a North Korean torpedo in a sunken South Korean warship. In the wake of this attack, South Korea imposed strict sanctions and refused to participate in any humanitarian aid helping North Korea, until now.

On August 11, South Korea pledged to donate $13.3 million to the World Food Programme and the World Health Organization. The aid South Korea donates will be strictly humanitarian and will provide food and medicine for malnourished babies and mothers.

The news is greatly welcomed by citizens of the North Korean capital Pyongyang, where assistance is sorely needed for a number of reasons. First, the country never quite recovered from a harsh famine in the 1990s. Secondly, two-thirds of the population relies on twice-monthly rations provided by the government. Even more distressing is the quality of the rations—they are often comprised of barley, maize, and rice, which means children and infants have severe protein deficiencies.

The North Korean government, which had already proved it was hardly capable of feeding 24 million citizens, suffered another setback due to a drought in 2012. Conditions worsened as a lack of clean water and sanitation led to diarrhea becoming the leading cause of death. In addition, North Korean healthcare, while free, is characterized by understaffed hospitals whose technology is decades old.

The promise of international foreign aid, especially from the state’s neighbor, is a gesture of goodwill and savvy politics in the context of previous fiascoes in foreign efforts.

The first of these was in 2011 when the U.N. called for $218 million in foreign aid for North Korea. Despite the dire need, only $85 million was reached. This is due in large to the fact that most of the world doesn’t trust Pyongyang to dole out the money for humanitarian efforts, but suspects money would be spent more on military efforts.

One year later, the U.N. again asked, this time for $198 million. The United States prepared 240,000 metric tons of food and other humanitarian aid. But the States retracted the offer when the benefactor-to-be tested a military rocket.

The proverbial door that South Korea has opened will have a positive net effect. Operating through the WFP and the WHO will make it more difficult for North Korea to allot funds for military opportunities. Yet the pledge was also the first step in reopening conversation between the countries separated by war six years ago.

The last high-level meeting between the two countries was in February, and was deemed a success. The Koreans managed to look past extreme tension caused by the North’s nuclear tests and threats of force, and agreed to let relatives from the countries visit one another for the first time in three years.

It is more than likely that South Korea will seek to arrange another grace period around September 8th. The day is the Korean Thanksgiving and is a holiday that places importance on the assembly of the family.

While North Korea has not responded yet, recent actions suggest the country has grown aware of the disadvantages of alienation and may place a higher premium on the quality of life of citizens. The country, once set on boycotting the Asian Games in the fall, has decided to send a national team to the event. It has also re-opened the case of two Japanese individuals who were kidnapped during the Cold War.

While the gestures might be symbolic, it is a step in the right direction.

– Andrew Rywak

Sources: New York Times 1, New York Times 2, Veooz, Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, New York Times 3
Photo: The Guardian