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article imageAre US food aid politics starving North Korean children?

By Nancy Houser     Jan 18, 2012 in Food
A vital weapon in the U.S.'s arsenal enduring stockpile is food, a peace will offering of food aid combined with sanction suspensions to North Korea. Meanwhile, children of all ages are dying of starvation as both countries battle over political rhetoric.
Compared to the rest of the world, it looks as if the United States has plenty of food to spare. At least enough to barter with North Korea over nuclear weapons, even though the U.S. hunger rate is high due to massive unemployment and a low economy.
The younger Kim and North Korea are facing two on-going issues: international pressure to end its nuclear program and a devastating food crisis. On Wednesday, the first positive sign toward an agreement to resolve the problems was received from North Korea's foreign ministry spokesman to Pyongyang's official news agency:
In the, the spokesman's statement suggested that a deal was still on the cards if the US raised the amount of food it is willing to offer.
"We will watch if the US truly wants to build confidence," it said.
The Telegraph reported that in 2008, the U.S. had pledged 500,000 tons of rice to North Korea in food aid. However, the rice shipments stopped one year later after only 170,000 tons because of questions from North Korea regarding the distribution's transparency and flaring tensions over a planned long-range rocket test. Pyongyang told the U.S. to leave in 2009.
This rice crop is almost ready for harvesting.
This rice crop is almost ready for harvesting.
Recently on December 15-16, Ambassador Robert King, the U.S. special envoy for North Korean human rights, met with Ri Gun, senior North Korean foreign ministry, to discuss the remaining 330,000 tons of food aid that had been previously promised.
North Korea reports in the Winniped Free Press that "Washington later sought to 'drastically' change the amount and the items of food assistance it was supposed to provide."
Many food aid groups are angrily accusing the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) of playing politics with North Korea food aid, imperiling millions of hungry and vulnerable people in the isolated Communist state, according to Reuters .
Both government agencies have declined to answer any directed inquiries "about when the decision may be made or what factors may be at play."
"There has clearly been a political lens put over a humanitarian issue," said Jim White of the international relief organization Mercy Corps, which took the lead in prior U.S. aid efforts to North Korea.
"We are seeing large numbers of people in North Korea slip from chronic malnutrition to acute. There are needs now."
Officials from the United States calls food aid to North Korea "nutritional assistance." Not only rice but vitamin supplements are expected to go to the needy and hungry, but the U.S. thinks that type of food may go to Kim's military. To avoid this problem, the U.S. is offering high-energy biscuits and similar nutritional supplements inside its latest package, rather than rice and grain---which are Korea's food staples and last much longer. A diet change to biscuits and supplements are something the Koreans are not used to, nor their digestive systems.
YouTube screenshot
Without the Korean staples of rice soup and grain, starving children and homeless children are forced to gather and eat grass in the fields and on the roadside.
North Koreans are trapped in poverty, malnourished or even starving to death, according to aid workers and defectors. In February of 2011, UN agencies visited North Korea, where one-quarter of the population or six million North Koreans, are in urgent need.
The Winnipeg Free Press reports that "The North is saying it is willing to go ahead with nuclear steps if it gets the food aid it wants," said Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea professor at Seoul's Dongguk University. "The North is telling the United States to provide a goodwill gesture. If Washington doesn't, Pyongyang is threatening it will go down its own path."
In another scenario, Victoria Nuland, State Department spokeswoman, maintains that the food issue was separate from negotiations over the North's nuclear program. According to her knowledge, in the Miami Herald, the U.S. has not had "strong new signals" from the North on either topic. "I think you know where we are on nutritional assistance. We do not link this to politics. This is not something to be traded," Nuland told reporters.
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