Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Is it right to give North Korea humanitarian aid?

Should countries that abhor North Korea’s system respond to appeals for food aid to keep its people from starving? 

First, donors are denied the ability to make sure the aid gets to needy civilians. Much of it in fact is siphoned off by officials who eat it themselves, supply it to the military or sell it to market traders. Second, the regime has the effrontery to use the aid, judo-style, as a political weapon. It boasts in its internal propaganda that enemy countries give not out of charity but because the brilliant “general,” dictator Kim Jong Il, by turning North Korean into a nuclear armed, ferociously war-ready country, has frightened them into paying tribute.
A reporter who had covered North Korea for years was asked whether foreigners should provide food aid, even though much of it would be diverted. Yes, he said — because every bit of aid increases the country’s overall food supply and tends to bring down the price that civilians must pay in the markets.

A young North Korean woman he had videotaped last year died later in the same year. “Kim filmed that footage in June, 2010. Kim had a chance to visit the same location in November and found out that she died of hunger there.” The woman was a victim of the regime’s North Korea’s disastrous currency redenomination of late 2009 “Business and distribution suddenly stopped. Her parents had to sell their house and the family became homeless. The parents had died of starvation before the daughter.”

The same reporter has recently spoken with an officer in Kim Jong Il’s elite bodyguard service, who said even he and his men were getting only 300 grams of grain each per day, less than half the former rationing standard of 800 grams for uniformed personnel. “It suggests that the government does not have enough foreign currency even to buy enough food for its soldiers,” he said. 

Reporters have said that “even in the capital, Pyongyang, the situation is deteriorating, as shown by worsening electricity shortages. Although food is available at public markets, it’s expensive. Fear is spreading among the people about what will happen come spring, the most difficult time of the year,” when much of the harvest will have been used up.

So there are valid reasons to consider charity.

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