1998 NCC News Archives

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Cookies, Greenhouses & More:
CWS Response in North Korea Famine

NOTE: Updates on CWS response in Papua New Guinea, following the tidal wave, and among persons displaced by the fighting in Kosovo are included at the end of this news release.

NEW YORK, July 30, 1998 -- Cookies and lentils, greenhouses and fertilizer – these are among the diverse elements of Church World Service’s ongoing response to North Korea’s long-running, severe shortage of food.

Oil and sugar contributed by Church World Service are used by the Singhe County Nursery and Kindergarten Supply and Food Processing Factory to bake cookies for the 12,550 children in the 381 institutions the factory serves. The cookies add important nutrients – and interest – to the children’s somewhat monotonous ration. Beans, peas and lentils add balance to the grains contributed by many international donors. The greenhouses and fertilizer are key building blocks for longer term development of North Korea’s agricultural capacity.

Since 1996, Church World Service, the humanitarian response ministry of the National Council of Churches, has sent $2.8 million in humanitarian assistance to North Korea, including food aid, blankets, medicines, clothing, and, most recently, vinyl greenhouses and diesel generators.

CWS is planning another shipment to North Korea, to total $750,000 in value. Mr. Hsu and the Rev. Rodney Page, Church World Service Executive Director, plan to visit North Korea Sept. 11-15 to receive the shipment, which will include $250,000 worth of blankets and 60 metric tons of legumes (beans, peas and lentils).

CWS also is seeking to support a large-scale community farm as part of a consortium of six non-governmental organizations, which will support one farm each in Hwanghae Province. Funds needed for the farm project include $70,000 for a generator and farm equipment and $130,000 in fertilizer and other agricultural inputs.

To help, contact Church World Service, Account #976503 North Korea Famine, P.O. Box 968, Elkhart, IN 46515. Credit card contributions: 1-800-297-1516 ext. 222.

Two years of floods followed by drought destroyed much of North Korea’s crops three years’ running and severely weakened food security. Last year’s cereals harvest fell 1.8 million metric tons short of the nation’s need. By April, North Korea had exhausted its grain supply from the 1997 harvest, forcing it to be dependent yet again on international relief until the 1998 harvest begins in August.

"Even if there is a good crop this year, there is still continuing need," said Erich Weingartner, who serves within the World Food Program in Pyongyang, North Korea, as liaison officer to non-governmental organizations. Mr. Weingartner was nominated to his post by CWS/NCC, which hosted him on a week-long visit (July 6-10) to New York and Washington, D.C. (See NCC News Release of 7/10/98.)

Children under age six are faring better this year than last, thanks to the World Food Program’s focus on feeding programs for preschoolers, a priority adopted following WFP Executive Director Catherine Bertini’s assessment visit to North Korea in May 1997. Some of the worst problems now are being seen in older children. Diarrhea has become common and has been aggravated by the breakdown of North Korea’s water purification system and a severe shortage of medicine and medical supplies.

In addition, people continue to scrounge for "alternative foods" including edible barks and grasses, mushrooms and seaweed.

The severity of the situation was confirmed during a May 1 visit to CWS and the NCC by a high-ranking delegation from North Korea, including Ambassador Kim Su Man. Members of the delegation confirmed that North Korea faces at least two more years of severe food shortages.

Victor Hsu, CWS Director for East Asia and the Pacific, visited North Korea in May to observe the arrival and distribution of the latest CWS shipment. It included 110 metric tons of edible oil (half consigned to the World Food Program and half to the Korean Christians Federation), 10 sets of vinyl greenhouses covering 500 square meters (KCF), seven 20-foot containers of clothing and antibiotics (KCF) and 40 metric tons of sugar (WFP).

Among recipients of the oil and sugar was the Singhe County Nursery and Kindergarten Supply and Food Processing Factory, which produces 90 tons of cookies each year. An all-woman team of 10 works in the plant that serves 12,550 children in 381 institutions. In all, the oil and sugar were distributed to 16 counties for the benefit of 221,480 children, Mr. Hsu said.

During his visit, Mr. Hsu said, he saw teams of people, including soldiers, planting rice seedlings. "Because of the spring season, everything looked green and lush," he said. "But there were signs that all was not well. People were preparing the soil for planting on the most difficult terrain – on rocky slopes, on the shoulders of train tracks. Every piece of land wherever there was soil was being tilled for growing vegetables. Furthermore, Erich Weingartner reminded me that the worst time of the year for food needs is spring and summer before the new harvest."

There also are signs of serious deforestation. Forests once covered 61 percent of the country but have since been cut at least once. According to the United Nations Development Program, 1.2 million hectares out of the original 7.5 million hectares of trees have been replanted. The floods of 1994 and 1995 resulted from the environmental degradation.

Mr. Hsu noted that while the North Korean people need at least six million tons of grain this year, the total amount available – including its own purchases and harvest, World Food Program aid and assistance by church agencies and private relief groups – totals only about five million tons of food.

"Considering that pledges to the WFP Emergency Operation are not sufficient to cover the needs, 1998 may become another year in which non-governmental input will be decisive in keeping a threatened famine at bay. Let us renew our efforts and show the people of North Korea that we can sustain our concern for human need in concrete, impartial ways."

KOSOVO CRISIS: CWS is supporting emergency assistance including food and hygiene items for civilians who have fled their homes, farms and livelihoods to escape widespread fighting between Serbian police and security forces and the Kosovo Liberation Army. The fighting broke out in February, and has provoked a widespread humanitarian crisis throughout Kosovo and the surrounding regions. The UN estimates that as many as 79,000 people have fled to neighboring Albania, Montenegro and to more peaceful areas within Kosovo.

ACT members Norwegian Church Aid (NCA), International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) and Diaconie Agape (DA) have just completed extensive needs assessment, coordination and planning and are seeking just over $2 million to provide:

CWS will channel funds to ACT. Please specify CWS Emergency Account #976309 – Kosovo Crisis.

PAPUA NEW GUINEA TIDAL WAVE: ACT responded quickly following the giant tidal wave (tsuanami) that struck the northwest coast in mid-July, killing and injuring thousands. ACT forwarded $11,500 from its Rapid Response Fund to the Papua New Guinea Council of Churches, an ecumenical group representing Protestant, Catholic and Anglican churches and which has a history of providing emergency response in the region. The Council is channeling assistance through the Catholic Church, the predominant religious body on the island, which is supplying food, water, clothing and medicines to disaster survivors.

Church World Service is seeking support from its members to sponsor future mitigation and preparedness efforts in the region, and for possible resettlement of disaster survivors. CWS Emergency Account #976504 – Papua New Guinea Tidal Wave.

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