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North Korea requests Finnish food aid

The North Korean government has asked Finnish aid organisations to provide food aid amid a worsening food shortage in the country.

Pohjois-Korean maaseutua
The cabbage harvest was good in 2009, but drought and other factors have since caused food shortages in North Korea. Image: Kirkon ulkomaanapu/ Jussi Ojala

Authorities in North Korea are struggling to prevent famine in rural parts of their country and have asked Finnish NGOs to send humanitarian aid.

Harvests have been bad for two years in succession, and this year’s is also expected to be poor, says Harri Hakola of the Christian NGO Fida.

“The situation is worse than it has been for ten years,” said Hakola. “To all intents and purposes food will run out in May for the majority of the population.”

Summer period 'critical'

Malnutrition has long been evident in rural areas of the country, according to the UN.

“The most critical period is in the summer, when the previous year’s harvest has been eaten,” said Hakola. Both Fida and Finn Church Aid, another Finnish development NGO, have received requests for aid direct from North Korea.

The country also asked the UN for help ahead of the recent Hanoi meeting, during which dictator Kim Jong-Un asked Donald Trump for sanctions on the country to be lifted.

“Sure, the summit [in Hanoi] might influence the timing of the request but the message of distress has been sent out for a while now,” said Jouni Hemberg of Finn Church Aid. “They have had problems with drought and flooding, and there’s also a shortage of fertilisers in the country. So there are many factors.”

The World Food programme estimates that some 40 percent of North Koreans don’t get enough food, and the government has asked the UN for 1.4 million tonnes of food to help make up for poor harvests.

Sanction compliance

Fida has worked in North Korea for more than two decades, while Finn Church Aid doesn’t currently have a presence in the country.

Despite warm words from Trump in Vietnam, strict sanctions will remain in place and that makes it more difficult to provide the isolated country with assistance.

Finn Church Aid travelled to the east Asian peninsular in January to evaluate the need for help, and the conditions for delivering it, in three different provinces. Hemberg said there’s a willingness to act, but now resources should be found—and sanctions complied with.

“There are stricter conditions for visas, it’s difficult to send materials to the country and payments are more difficult to make,” said Hemberg. “Banks don’t want to transfer money for things connected to North Korea, even though the aid materials themselves will be purchased elsewhere.”

Hakola says that conditions within the country have eased somewhat for foreign NGOs, with rhetoric not as hostile towards foreign threats as in previous years.

“It’s also somewhat historic that in recent years the leader of North Korea Kim Jong-Un has mentioned his own population’s welfare in speeches, as well as foreign threats,” said Hemberg.

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