ASIA/NORTH KOREA - “The people are hungry for food and peace”: Caritas Hong Kong reports after humanitarian mission in North Korea

Thursday, 1 April 2004

Hong Kong (Fides Service) - “In north Korea people are still struggling to survive and Caritas Hong Kong does all it can to alleviate the suffering of the people ”. Kathi Zellweger, head of international cooperation Caritas Hong Kong reported to Fides. Ms Zellweger, has just returned from her 45th humanitarian mission in North Korea.
Ms Zellweger was in North Korea from 17 to 28 February and besides meeting members of the N. Korean government, UN agencies and NGOs working in the humanitarian field, she also visited kindergartens, schools and hospitals which benefit from Caritas aid. “We must continue our humanitarian programme, with long term interventions and also find ways to support the peace process and initiatives to promote reconciliation between the two Koreas, north and south: these are priorities for Caritas Hong Kong in North Korea”, Ms Zellweger told Fides. Emergencies include “food aid, particularly for children and pregnant mothers; medicines and medical equipment; support for agriculture co-operatives and fish breeding farms; aid for homes for children and schools for orphans and children with disabilities”.
In her report sent to Fides Ms Zellweger says that Caritas Hong Kong has assisted the people of north Korea since 1995 supplying a total of 27 million dollars of aid. In response to its appeal for money to support aid programmes in 2003 Caritas collected about 2 million dollars which were used for the weakest and most disadvantaged groups.
According to the UN World Food Programme, in 2004 Korea will need 485,000 tonnes of cereals to feed 6.5 million people in need. Caritas aims to guarantee food security above all for children and pregnant mothers. “In the field of food security - Ms Zellweger said- there is considerable disparity from region to region and also compared rural area and urban communities. We operate in the eastern coastal counties where there is most need of help”.
Caritas focuses particularly on helping children and old people: 8,000 children, orphans, abandoned, disabled, in more than 40 homes run by Caritas, depend on aid. According to unofficial figures 70,000 children in North Korea do not get enough to eat. Caritas also provides food aid and other assistance for 5,000 people over sixty living in old people’s homes.
In the field of health care Caritas supplies medical equipment and medicines to many clinics and hospitals in the eastern countries which enables them to stay open but the number of patients in increasing: “much remains to be dome, especially with regard to training of personnel and supplying hospitals in rural areas ”, Ms Zellweger said
In the agricultural field, Caritas programmes are successful. More and more farmers are asking to take part in Caritas programmes of assistance and farm technique training.
Caritas continues to work in close collaboration with UN agencies and NGOs operating in North Korea. “We will make our appeal for funds this month - Ms Zellweger concludes - and we hope that despite many needs in many parts of the world today people will continue to make donations in favour of North Korea. The people there are hungry for food and for peace”.
(PA) (Agenzia Fides 1/4/2004 lines 48 words 492)