Action Against Hunger stops its activities in North Korea

Report
from Action Contre la Faim France
Published on 10 Mar 2000
Confronted with the impossible access to the most vulnerable groups of the North-Korean population suffering from malnutrition, Action Against Hunger has decided to stop its programs and withdraw from North Korea.
Since January 1998, Action Against Hunger has provided nutritional assistance for the malnourished children in the Northern Province of Hamgyong. This province is very populated (2.2 million) and has been experiencing a chronic food shortage. Today, the province of North Hamgyong is struggling for survival as most of the economic activities have stopped.

All the humanitarian assistance in North Korea targets government-operated facilities. Action Against Hunger programs were targeting 108,000 children under five in 1,442 nurseries and 61,741 children between 5 and 6 years old in 1,098 kindergartens (these are official figures, probably inflated).

For the last two years, the AAH team, including five expatriates permanently based in Chongjin, the capital of North Hamgyong, has been assessing the humanitarian situation and monitoring the implementation of the program. The main findings of the AAH team are :

1/ The number of children present in the facilities was less than the quoted official figures, even though all AAH visits were announced in advance.

2/ The malnutrition detected in these facilities was around 1%, although the nutrition survey conducted by UNICEF, WFP and the European Union showed 16% of malnutrition amongst children.

3/ Most of the malnutrition cases witnessed by our team was amongst children with no access to any facilities. Those who were especially hard hit were the « street children », many of whom were between 3 and 4 years old, and found wandering alone, while visibly very weak and fighting to collect food.

Confronted with this situation and convinced that the aid channeled through government-run facilities did not reach the most vulnerable, Action Against Hunger negotiated with the authorities to set up soup kitchens, outside the official facilities, targeting the most high risk group of children. But the conditions to implement this program have been refused by the North-Korean authorities.

We are convinced that the international aid flowing into North-Korea is not reaching the people most in need. We were denied authorization to visit the poorest families, where we suspect that children are confined to their homes, cut off from any assistance and essentially condemned to death.

This is extremely revolting as the lives of these children could be easily saved with access and appropriate assistance.

The attitude of the international community has been cynical. Most of the western powers see the humanitarian aid to DPRK as a tool for foreign policy and national security.

The humanitarian organizations have been used as an instrument in this political game which sacrifices hundred of thousands of North-Koreans to the altar of realpolitik. The basic principles of humanitarian action are flouted daily.

Action Against Hunger has finally decided to withdraw its teams from North-Korea and to stop all its assistance programs. We have stayed for two years, continuously hoping to negotiate access to the most needy populations and to directly implement our relief programs to save the lives of malnourished children.

Action Against Hunger reaffirms that the international aid given to North Korea does not reach the neediest and that thousands of people continue to die despite the massive food aid provided to the government.

Action Against Hunger recommends that the international community exercise maximum pressure on the DPRK Government in order that the basic principles of humanitarian aid be fully respected, namely, the direct access to beneficiaries, direct supervision and monitoring as well as free and unhindered evaluation of the impact of aid. All programs should benefit directly the most vulnerable populations, especially malnourished children.

A complete press kit (French end English) is available on request.

Contacts:

Marianick Ithurralde, Action contre la Faim / 33 1 43 35 88 43
Cécile Join-Lambert, Action contre la Faim / 33 1 43 35 88 43