Two Northwest relief agencies are leading the effort to bring US food aid to North Korea. Officials from World Vision, based in Federal Way, and Mercy Corps, based in Portland, are on the ground in North Korea. They are overseeing the distribution of 37,000 tons of US wheat. It is the first direct US food aid to that country in 8 years. KUOW's Deborah Wang reports.
WORLD VISION AND MERCYCROPS HAVE BEEN OPERATING HUMANITARIAN PROGRAMS IN NORTH KOREA FOR MORE THAN A DECADE.
THEY WERE PART OF THE EFFORT TO BRING IN EMERGENCY FOOD AID BACK IN THE 1990'S. THAT'S WHEN AN ESTIMATED TWO MILLION NORTH KOREANS DIED.
LINDBORG: "I'm not sure North Korea has really ever recovered from what was a full scale famine in the 1990's. It's been teetering on this edge for the last decade."
NANCY LINDBORG IS MERCY CORP'S PRESIDENT. SHE SAYS A NUMBER OF FACTORS HAVE LED TO THE CURRENT FOOD CRISIS.
LINDBORG: "Both China and South Korea have stopped sending in the amount of food aid they have in the past, coupled with the rising food prices globally, and then last fall there was a serious typhoon that wiped out a significant amount of the North Korean rice crop"
IN MAY, THE US PLEDGED A HALF MILLION TONS OF FOOD AID TO THE COUNTRY. A PORTION OF IT WILL BE DISTRIBUTED BY MERCY CORPS, WORLD VISION, AND 3 OTHER AID AGENCIES.
FOR THE FIRST TIME, THEIR STAFF MEMBERS WILL BE ALLOWED INTO THE COUNTRYSIDE TO OVERSEE THE DISTRIBUTION. NORTH KOREA HAS BEEN NOTORIOUSLY CLOSED TO OUTSIDERS. DURING THE FAMINE OF THE 1990'S, THE GOVERNMENT DIDN'T ALLOW AID WORKERS TO LEAVE THE CAPITAL CITY.
VICTOR HSU IS THE NORTH KOREA COUNTRY DIRECTOR FOR WORLD VISION. HE SAYS THIS TIME AROUND, THE U.S. NEGOTIATED UNPRECEDENTED ACCESS IN EXCHANGE FOR FOOD.
HSU: "The insistence by the US government to have satisfactory operational conditions perhaps convinced them that they have to cooperate. We made it also very clear that if they don't provide the access then that could be the end of the program."
THE RELIEF GROUPS WILL BE OPERATING IN TWO NORTH KOREAN PROVINCES. THEY EXPECT TO FEED ABOUT A HALF A MILLION CHILDREN, PREGNANT WOMEN AND ELDERLY FOR A YEAR.