1216 GMT October 23, 2019
Lee Sang-min, spokesman for Seoul’s Unification Ministry, said the government will discuss its plans with the World Food Programme and the United Nations Children’s Fund, through which the aid would be provided, so it reaches North Korean children and pregnant women quickly. South Korea is also trying to build public and political support for providing wider food aid to North Korea, either directly or through the WFP, AP reported.
North Korea’s state media said last week that the country was suffering its worst drought in more than a century amid reported food shortages.
“The government will first discuss with international organizations over the provision of aid and take measures so that the support arrives (in North Korea) quickly,” Lee said. “On the matter of direct aid, we will consider the matter while sufficiently garnering the opinions of our citizens.”
South Korean President Moon Jae-in has expressed hopes that aid will help revive diplomacy and engagement with North Korea, which tapered off after a nuclear summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and the US President Donald Trump in February broke down because of differences over sanctions relief and disarmament steps. Kim has since declared that the Trump administration has until the end of the year to come up with mutually acceptable terms for a deal to salvage the negotiations.
The two sides have been at loggerheads since the collapse of the February summit with Kim blaming it on what he described as unilateral demands by the United States, which he said raised questions over whether Washington has genuine willingness to improve relations.
While the US has urged allies to maintain economic pressure on North Korea until it takes material steps toward relinquishing its nuclear weapons, White House spokesman Sarah Sanders recently said Washington has no plan to “intervene” if South Korea moves forward with food aid.
But Moon’s government has yet to decide on concrete plans amid growing public frustration over Kim’s government, which recently resumed short-range missile tests that were apparently aimed at pressuring Washington and Seoul.
A North Korean website last week described the South Korean proposals for humanitarian aid as disrespectful and said Seoul was trying to sidestep fundamental issues with “hollow talk and boastful credit-taking.”
North Korea’s KCNA reported last Wednesday that an average of 54.4 millimeters (2.1 inches) of rain fell in North Korea from January to early May, which it said was the lowest level since 1982. Two days later, the state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper said the average precipitation of 56.3 millimeters (2.2 inches) from January to May 15 was the country’s lowest since 1917.
The UN food agencies said earlier this month that about 10 million people were facing “severe food shortages” after one of North Korea’s worst harvests in a decade.
The last time South Korea provided humanitarian aid to North Korea through an international agency was in 2015, when it gave $800,000 to a UN Population Fund project to evaluate North Korean public health conditions.
South Korea has not provided direct food aid to North Korea since 2010.
An abrupt turn toward diplomacy in 2018 saw Kim meet with Trump twice and three times with Moon.