Saturday, July 05, 2008

Hungry North Korea opens doors to aid workers

Five aid agencies announced this week that they had signed an unprecedented deal with Pyongyang to oversee the distribution of food aid from the U.S. government - the first U.S. bilateral assistance in eight years.

North Korea's surprise decision to ease restrictions on international aid operations as it battles chronic hunger is a major breakthrough which bodes well for future international cooperation, aid workers say. But aid groups have warned the secretive regime that they will halt a new aid program if it reneges on promises to let them check the distribution of food.

"It has been made very clear to North Korea that if it's discovered that food is going where it's not supposed to be going this program ... will not continue," said Joy Portella, spokeswoman for Mercy Corps, one of the agencies.

For the first time, the agencies will be able to keep tabs on the progress of the food from its arrival in the country to its distribution in institutions including hospitals, nurseries and orphanages.

Victor Hsu, country director for World Vision, said North Korea was allowing aid workers into 165 of its 211 counties. The others are off limits for what Pyongyang says are national security reasons. No food aid will be delivered there.

[Excerpt of an article by Emma Batha, Reuters AlertNet]

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