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1998 NCC News Archives


   NEW YORK, January 13, 1998 ---- Church World Service (CWS) is planning another $500,000 in aid to help North Koreans survive their next crucial "crunch" in March or April, when basic food supplies will again start to run dry and a harvest will still be four to five months away.

   The $500,000 will be raised from individuals and CWS member communions. $250,000 will go towards food shipments and $250,000 towards the purchase of livestock and freight costs. The Korean Christians Federation, a CWS partner in North Korea, has also requested CWS supply portable greenhouses and solar electric generators, so CWS is welcoming designated contributions for these items.

   Since 1995, Church World Service has sent more than $2.2 million worth of rice, corn, barley, beef, antibiotics, blankets and clothing to help alleviate famine-related suffering in North Korea. This and other outside aid is improving life in North Korea, and points to North Korea's emergence from isolation, said Victor Hsu, Director of the CWS East Asia and Pacific Program, but he cautioned that humanitarian efforts must be redoubled to help the North Korean people through a critical time in upcoming months.


   "Aid provided last year has made the current winter months more endurable, but the country's people remain in peril," said Mr. Hsu, who last visited North Korea in November.

   "The entire international community is less pessimistic now about North Korea, and North Korea does seem to have turned a corner in responding to the terrible effects of the calamities of recent years ," Mr. Hsu said. "But this is no time for humanitarian organizations to rest on laurels." In addition to the more than two years of floods and drought that have destroyed much of the nation's crops and weakened its food security, North Korea's topography and climate have long made it prone to food shortages. Only 20% of North Korea's land is arable.

   On January 6, UN officials said North Korea now needs more than a million tons of food assistance and the World Food Program plans to provide 724,000 tons to nearly 7.5 million people, roughly a third of the nation's population of 23 million.

   Mr. Hsu explained that even after the "crunch" time this spring, because of ongoing food shortages, "once grains are harvested, they are consumed, so Koreans will face an extreme food shortage very quickly. They have no room to save and feed."

   Moreover, "people are afraid of the cumulative effects (of malnutrition and hunger)," Mr. Hsu said. "I foresee much more illness among the young and the elderly."


   At a meeting last month with international relief officials, Li Hyong Chul, North Korea's Ambassador to the United Nations, said that food stuffs remain the most basic priority and the development of livestock is a second, "middle-term" priority.

   Mr. Hsu commented that outreach by the North Korean Ambassador is one of many steps making it clear that, bit by bit, North Korea is emerging from its international isolation. Talks between North and South Korea, China and the United States on easing lingering tensions caused by the Korea War continue at a "positive, if measured pace," Mr. Hsu said.

   Another significant step, he said, is a $29 million loan by the International Fund for Agricultural Development, a UN agency, to assist North Korea begin a program initiating small local units of farming production. "North Korea's own willingness to look into various ways of seeking international assistance, including low-interest loans from a UN agency, indicates an opening to adjusting its basic ideology of self-reliance," Mr. Hsu explained. "In turn, this openness is being welcomed by Western nations." The United States abstained, rather than opposing the UN measure, a clear sign that tensions between North Korea and the United States are easing somewhat, he said.

   Mr. Hsu visited North Korea in November as part of a five-member delegation representing Interfaith Hunger Appeal (IHA), a coalition of Jewish, Protestant and Catholic hunger relief organizations.

   Last year, CWS member denominations contributed $681,574 towards a $500,000 appeal issued Dec. 23, 1996. A CWS shipment of 1,200 metric tons (1,323 U.S. tons) of corn arrived in North Korea last fall, and delayed shipments of 830 pounds of antibiotics and seven 20-foot containers of clothing are scheduled to arrive this month.

   Also last year, CWS sent 500 tons of barley seed to North Korea as part of a double-cropping experiment that involved a total of 10,000 tons of grain seed donated by international relief agencies which yielded a harvest of 150,000 tons of grain.

   In addition, CWS/Action by Churches Together (ACT) International has been the coordinating agency for the secondment of Erich Weingartner to the World Food Program's Pyongyang office. He serves as liaison with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) for their shipments and visits.

   Those wishing to offer assistance for North Koreans may do so through: CHURCH WORLD SERVICE, Attn. North Korea Food Crisis, #7633U, P.O. Box 968, Elkhart, IN 46515. Phone pledges or credit card donations: 1-800-762-0968.

   CWS works in more than 70 countries, including the U.S., in disaster relief, human development and refugee assistance. It is a ministry of the National Council of Churches, the nation's preeminent ecumenical organization which includes 34 Protestant and Orthodox member communions with a combined membership of 52 million.

Writer: Wendy S. McDowell

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