Aid groups to US: Decide on food aid to North Korea now

Jérome Sauvage, U.N. resident coordinator in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, holds up a piece of biscuit from a factory run by the World Food Program in the country. Photo by: David Ohana / UN

The U.S. government’s decision to delay the announcement of a planned food assistance package for North Korea has prompted warnings from a number of humanitarian groups, which argued that suffering in North Korea will worsen the longer the decision is put off.

Senior officials from the United States and North Korea met in China last week to discuss food and nutritional assistance. The Associated Press reported the meeting led to an agreement over a package of nutritional assistance that was supposed to be announced this week. But this announcement never came as the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il prompted the U.S. government to put all decisions relating to the Asian country on hold.

Victoria Nuland, the spokesperson of the U.S. State Department, has confirmed there will be further discussions between North Korea and the United States on the topic of food aid.

“There are a number of issues that still need to be resolved. So we’re going to have to keep talking about this. And given the mourning period, frankly, we don’t think we’ll be able to have much more clarity and resolve these issues before the new year,” she said at a Dec. 20 press briefing in Washington.

This announcement of more talks did not sit well with some aid groups.

“We are concerned. Time is of the essence,” Ken Isaacs of Samaritan’s Purse said, according to The Associated Press. “Whatever was agreed may have to go back to the drawing board in different capitals. Who knows how all that will pan out.”

Samaritan’s Purse was of the five U.S. aid groups that helped in the distribution of U.S. food aid in North Korea before the latter started refusing aid in 2009. 

David Austin, Mercy Corps’ program director for North Korea agreed on the urgency of the issue: “The longer you delay this decision, the more suffering there’s going to be.”

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About the author

  • Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.