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US NGOs urge leaders to move forward with aid for hungry

North Korea, March 23, 2012

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Five aid agencies today expressed disappointment over the possibly indefinite delay of a US-funded nutritional assistance program for vulnerable people in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). The agencies – Christian Friends of Korea, Global Resource Services, Mercy Corps, Samaritan’s Purse and World Vision, collectively known as the “US NGOs” – call upon the US and North Korean governments to resolve this impasse, and allow for the resumption of a proposed aid program to meet urgent humanitarian needs.

The US NGOs are reacting to the political stalemate that erupted following North Korea’s announcement of plans to launch a satellite and carrier rocket next month. A State Department spokesperson subsequently stated that the rocket launch would make it “hard to imagine” how aid would move forward, and that the US Government is taking “a pause” in implementing a nutritional assistance program.

Delay or potential cancellation of this program would violate humanitarian principles which hold that lifesaving assistance should not be used to achieve political aims. “Millions of hungry children and mothers in North Korea are caught in the crosshairs,” said Jim White, Mercy Corps Vice President of Operations. “We appeal to both governments to put politics aside and work together to ensure that nutritional assistance gets to people in need.”

Late last month, the US announced plans to send 240,000 metric tons of nutritional assistance to North Korea over the course of twelve months. The aid program would be implemented jointly by the US NGOs and the World Food Programme (WFP), and would target the nutritional needs of young children, pregnant and lactating mothers, and hospital patients. Last week’s developments appear to put this program on hold.

The US’s initial agreement to provide assistance followed more than one year of strong recommendations from the US NGOs for aid targeting the most vulnerable North Koreans. The five groups repeatedly witnessed – specifically during a food assessment in February 2011 and a flood relief trip in September 2011 – extensive food insecurity and malnutrition, especially among young children, pregnant and nursing mothers and hospitalized patients. The US NGO findings have been corroborated by the independent assessments and reports of the WFP, UNICEF, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the European Community and the US Government.

Each of the five US NGOs has more than a decade of experience working in the DPRK. In 2008, the five collaborated on a food security assessment, as well as a subsequent program that delivered 71,000 metric tons of US Government-funded food aid to 900,000 hungry North Koreans in Chagang and North Pyongan provinces.