Hong Kong (Fides Service) - For 70% of the people in North Korea (about 22 million) daily life is a struggle and every next meal is a problem. The situation is particularly difficult for the more vulnerable categories, children, pregnent mothers, old people and the sick as well as people in rural areas. This emerged from a report sent to Fides on the part of Caritas Hong Kong by Kathi Zellweger head of international cooperation. Ms Zellweger made a recent visit to North Korea 23 July to 13 August, the 49th such mission since 1995 when Caritas Hong Kong first started sending humanitarian aid to the area.
It was in fact in 1995 when the country in the grip of serious food shortage that the government of Pyongyang opened its borders to humanitarian aid and Caritas was the first NGO to launch a humanitarian aid project above the 28 parallel. To date it has suppled North Korea with food aid for a total 27 million dollars. Providing humanitarian assistance for the hungry, orphans, pregnant women and the elderly as well as medical aid and farming techniques and tools, over the years Caritas earned the appreciation and gratitude of both authorities and people.
To continue its mission in North Korea this year 2005-2006 Caritas Hong Kong has launched an appeal to collect 2.5 million dollars.
On her last visit in the Summer Ms Zellweger visited provinces along the east coast of north Korea to see hospitals, orphanages and schools assisted by Caritas as well as healthcare and farming projects. She said in the report: “The situation appears to have improved a little, particuarly with regard to food shortage, however the people are still extremely poor”,
According to Ms Zellweger the economic reforms launched by the government in 2002 have had a negative affect on the poorer people: “The gap between rich and poor is growing: on the one hand poverty spreads and new vulnerable groups appear but on the other Pyongyang shows signs of a certain economic dynamism opening besides 350 new restuarants also new markets and shops. However despite economic reforms life is a struggle for 70% of the people in cities and rural areas. And today the problem is not so much a food shortage, in fact food is available, but at proibitive prices”.
With regard to improvement in farming activities Caritas noted more cooperatives of farmers and rice growers and good results obtained with new techniques, both systems introduced by Caritas. However with regard to healthcare much work needs to be done to meet the needs of the people. Duncan Mc Laren general secretary of Caritas Internationalis, a federation of about 160 national Caritas offices said aid offered by Caritas offices all over the world is a good example of humanitarian assistance fee of any political manipulation.
(PA) (Agenzia Fides 2/9/2005 righe 31 parole 312)