North Korea is facing a cold winter in which it is unlikely to be able to feed its people.
"There is relatively little humanitarian assistance going in now," says Anthony Banbury, the UN World Food Program's regional director for Asia. "The willingness of donors to meet those needs has not been very strong."
The WFP says it needs $100 million this year to fulfill its goals for North Korea. So far, it has received only 10 percent of that total.
The reluctance to try to stave off another famine contrasts with the response in 1995, when North Korea for the first time asked the World Food Program to help.
By 1997, aid shipments through the program crested at more than 500,000 tons a year, with the US leading all donors. But the WFP last year sent in less than 100,000 tons, half of it from the US.
South Korean officials oppose shutting off economic contacts, much less boarding and interdicting North Korean ships, but say they are in a quandary when it comes to donations of rice. "It's a kind of dilemma," says Kang Jong-suk, an official at the Unification Ministry, which had been avidly pursuing reconciliation. "South Korea wants to send some humanitarian aid, but there is a barrier because of the UN resolution."
Banbury opposes giving up. "Walking away would stop assistance to millions of people and would stop an avenue of dialogue," he says. "It's better to stay engaged than to not stay engaged."
[Excerpt of an article by Donald Kirk, The Christian Science Monitor]