1998 NCC News Archives

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North Korea's Food Crisis Continues, CWS Team Finds

September 18, 1998, NEW YORK CITY -- North Koreans are facing yet another year of crop shortfalls, reported a Church World Service food aid monitoring team following its Sept. 11-14 visit to Pyongyang and the countryside.

The 1998 grains harvest, like last year’s, is expected to fall about 2 million tons short of the 6.6 million needed each year to feed North Korea’s 22 million people, according to unofficial predictions from informed observers in aid agencies. The United Nations’ official crop assessment report comes out in December.

To blame are progressive deterioration of the soil quality along with storms and floods in late August, said Victor W.C. Hsu, CWS Director for East Asia and the Pacific.

For the past three years, floods and then drought have extensively damaged crop yields nationwide. This year, regional storms and floods in late August marred a generally hospitable growing season.

The Aug. 23-24 deluge destroyed at least 2,300 homes, left 50 persons dead and 40 still missing, washed away crops growing on more than 400,000 acres of land, and rendered the Riwon County railway system totally inoperable. At least 10,000 households were directly affected.

"Health and water systems were of course seriously damaged, increasing risks of disease in an immune-weakened population," Mr. Hsu said. "Additionally, we were told that the flooding caused the farmers to harvest waterlogged and immature wheat for consumption."

Mr. Hsu was accompanied by the Rev. Dr. Rodney Page, CWS Executive Director, and Canon Patrick Mauney, Director of Anglican/Global Relations for The Episcopal Church and First Vice President of the Church World Service and Witness Unit Committee. CWS is the humanitarian response ministry of the National Council of Churches.

They were hosted by the Korean Christians Federation and the World Food Program, whose non-governmental organization liaison, Erich Weingartner, was seconded to the WFP by a group of NGOs including Church World Service.

Although their time in North Korea was brief, the CWS team’s visit spanned the peninsula from the Western Sea Barrage to Popdong County on the east coast, and included visits to public distribution system (PDS) warehouses, homes, day care centers and hospitals.

The team monitored the arrival and distribution of the latest CWS humanitarian shipment: 110 tons of edible oil, 66 tons of beans and lentils, and three sets of generators. In Kangwon Province, the oil and pulses were designated for 989 day care centers in 10 counties.

"It was heartening to see our donations going to the exact places we said we wanted them to go," commented Dr. Page, who spotted CWS commodities at a day care center, public distribution center, hospital and in two homes. CWS blankets should arrive at Nampo Port next week for distribution to orphanages and day care centers in time for winter, he said.

"The preschoolers we saw in Popdong County looked healthy," reported Canon Mauney, crediting the international community for its intensive and targeted assistance to this age group. The day the team visited, the county’s older children were in the mountains foraging for acorns, he said.

However, "the PDS warehouses and the stockrooms of the kindergartens, hospitals and day care centers that we visited on the trip were almost empty except for the milled rice, edible oil and flour donated by international aid agencies and governments. We saw in evidence bags from the European Community, Republic of Korea and the U.S.A.," Hsu said.

Canon Mauney praised the U.S. government for continuing its generous humanitarian assistance to hungry North Koreans, and for using "diplomacy rather than bluster and reactivity" to resolve sensitive international issues.

Dr. Page urged the international community to persist in helping North Korea get back on its feet. "Our hearts go out to all who suffer in North Korea," he said, "and there are many suffering the ravages of not having enough to eat."

Christians have a particular mandate to feed the hungry, Dr. Page said, adding the reminder that "a lot of our aid is distributed through the Korean Christians Federation," which is seeking to serve the broader North Korean community. "There’s a Christian community that’s vibrant and growing in the DPRK," he said, "and we want to help nurture that community."

The CWS team also saw:

The CWS team’s program included meetings with the Rev. KANG Young-sup, KCF Chairperson; Mr. David Morton, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for North Korea, and representatives of aid agencies resident in the DPRK.

Church World Service, which has a long history of contact with North Korea, especially the Korean Christians Federation, has provided more than $2.8 million in humanitarian assistance to North Korea since 1996, including food, medicine, clothing, blankets, diesel generators and greenhouses.


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