ASIA/NORTH KOREA - An NGO coalition seeks a “permanent humanitarian channel” between South and North Korea

Seoul (Agenzia Fides) – Some hope is rising for relations between North and South Korea. In recent days the Government in Seoul authorised lifting the block on the first load of humanitarian aid prepared by charity organisations which, despite the political crisis between the two countries, will be able to reach the malnourished children in the North. Currently, a coalition of 54 NGOs are seeking to open a “permanent humanitarian channel”, that may ensure the flow of aid to the most vulnerable. In a joint statement sent to Fides, the NGOs note that the famine emergency in North Korea has reached dangerous levels and millions of people, especially children, live in such conditions of food insecurity that they risk death by starvation. The coalition of 54 NGOs, all involved in various capacities to support the North Korean people, announce that this week a meeting will take place with North Korean politicians in China, to seek new means of maintaining a humanitarian channel from North to South.
The aid consists of medicines and food rations for children, prepared by the NGOs “Eugene Bell Foundation”, “World Vision” and “Join Together Society”, which in the coming weeks will reach orphanages and schools in two provinces in North Korea. The “Korean Sharing Movement” will also be allowed to bring food and aid into the North for children. It is the first shipment authorised by the Government in Seoul since the military attack by North Korea on a South Korean island in November 2010, which led to the suspension of any bilateral contact.
Many charitable organisations, national and international, including Caritas Korea, are united in asking the Government of Seoul to maintain a humanitarian corridor to allow them to continue to bring emergency aid to the most vulnerable among the North Korean people.
“We are very excited about this initiative and we hope that this united aid effort will spread widely in the coming months, given the emergency that exists in North Korea. Caritas Korea is ready to reactivate their programs. We believe that humanitarian aid should not be set conditions and, by its very nature, should be entirely independent of political crises,” Fr Bonnie Mendes, Director of the Asian Department of Caritas Internationalis, explains to Fides.
Last week the World Food Programme and other UN agencies, after a mission in North Korea, raised the alarm, pointing out that given the break with all contact with the outside world, more than six million people in North Korea are now in urgent need of food, otherwise their very survival is threatened.
Cooperation and humanitarian aid from South to North Korea have gradually declined since Lee Myung-bak came to power in Seoul in 2008, and the flow has been totally blocked since November 2010. (PA) (Agenzia Fides 4/4/2011)

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