[Writer's Choice] South Korea $8 Million Aid Package for North Korea

Jay Yim, May 17, 2019, 1:29 p.m.

On Friday, South Korea announced that they would give $8 million in aid to help the North's malnourished children and pregnant women because of their severe drought and food crisis caused by its worst harvest in a decade.

The sum is of funds which South Korea originally planned on donating in 2017, through the World Food Program and the United Nations Children's Fund. However, the donation was put on hold because North Korea had launched a ballistic missile over Japan that year and Shinzo Abe, Japan's leader, argued for delaying it.

The South clarified that the current stalement in talks over North Korea's nuclear program was not a reason to deny aid. “Our government’s position is that it will provide humanitarian assistance for North Korean people regardless of the political situation,” the country’s Unification Ministry said in a statement.

The World Food Program and the Food and Agriculture Organization said this month that about 10 million North Koreans (40 percent of the population) are facing "severe food shortages" after the country suffered its worst harvest in a decade last fall.

North Korea said Wednesday that it fears the crops due to be harvested next month, like wheat and barley, will also suffer.

Although North Korea was ravaged by famine in the 1990s, no reports of widespread starvation have been recorded. However, United Nations relieft agencies did give warning that a crisis could be coming in the following months "if no proper and urgent humanitarian actions are taken."

The aid package provided by the South is expected to include $4.5 million to help the World Food Program provide nutrition-rich food supplies to North Korean hospitals and day care facilities. In addition, $3.5 million will be donated for Unicef projects that supply vannices, medicine and malnutrition treatment to children and pregnant women.

South Korea president Moon Jae In hopes gestures like providing the aid package can help convince North Korea to return to talking with the United States. The government said that President Donald Trump supports the idea of South Korea providing humanitarian aid to the North.

However, there is also fear that South Korea's conservative opposition will accuse the government of coddling the North if it provided a larger aid package, especially with North Korea having resumed short-range missile tests. The conservatives of South Korea has made arguments against North Korea's government saying that they wasted their resources on its nuclear arms program, resources that should have been used to help its people.

Spokeswoman for the conservative Korea Liberty Party Jun Hee Kyung said, “this is a time to stop aid if there is any going to the North, not to provide it.”  She also accused Mr. Moon of “irresponsible appeasement.”

Since 2016, the United Nations has imposed a series of sanctions on North Korea which deprived the country of important resources and sources for income, which crippled their abillity to import food.

Kim Jong Un has been hoping to win relief from sanctions in return for a partial dismantling of the country's nuclear weapons. Trump, however, refused such an offer in February as his second meeting with Kim.

North Korea resuming their short-range missile tests last week has been seen as a warning that if sanctions are not lifted, the country will return to more ambitious missile launches.

Although the United Nations and the sanctions they've put in place does not prohibit humanitarian aid to the North, the escalation of nuclear and missile work has made it difficult for international relief agencies to collect substatial donations for malnourished children and nursing mothers.

The South's conservative party has strongly voiced their opposition in the humanitarian aid given to the North despite their nuclear and missile tests. However, Moon continues to support the aid to North Korea. Last year, Moon and his party gave the North $1 million worth of pesticides, making it the first direct governmental aid since 2010.

Moon and his administration said on Friday that it would allow South Korean businesspeople to visit the industrial complex in Kaesong. The factories were jointly operated by both Koreas until Moon's immediate predecessor shut it down in 2016. The executive expressed their desire to assess the condition of the factories, which was run with North Korean labor.

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