by Fr Simeon Lee, Executive Director of Caritas (South)Korea
I’m visiting North Korea to follow up on 100 tonnes of flour we delivered at the end of July and to talk with our North Korean counterparts. The flour is currently being distributed to nurseries and hospitals in Gangnam County in North Hwanghae. While it isn’t a lot compared to the need, we expect that this food assistance will give hope to the children and the sick. We hope that our heartfelt support can console people and make them understand that someone is accompanying them.
The money for the flour was raised at a “Mass for Peace” in Imjingak, South Korea, in June. The event was organised by the Committee for National Reconciliation and Caritas Korea was very involved in the process. Afterwards we received the funds collected during the Mass.
Caritas Korea focuses its work mainly of food assistance but in May we supported the delivery of medical supplies to a hospital in North Hwanghae and we will continue this work. When I visited the hospital, I couldn’t find any cooking facilities and people had to prepare their own food. Most patients are suffering from malnutrition.
Political tensions last year meant that the South Korean government restricted humanitarian assistance to the North. At the beginning of the summer the situation had deteriorated so much that the South Korean government approved a few NGOs to deliver food assistance after 8 months. Caritas Korea’s food aid played a catalytic role in non-governmental aid work for North Korea.
North Korea has been suffering from chronic food shortages for a long time. A UN report has said that over six million people need food assistance due to a reduction in agricultural production and commercial imports and a reduction in bilateral food assistance. Heavy rains have impacted the quality and yield of paddy rice and maize and the resulting floods have damaged houses and polluted wells. Furthermore, last year’s very cold winter has damaged seed potato and winter wheat.
In 1995, after North Korea faced severe floods, Caritas Internationalis initiated a major programme of humanitarian assistance in response to the serious food crisis which resulted in North Korea. Caritas was one of the first international agencies to respond to the DPRK (North Korean) government’s appeal for international assistance. At that time, Caritas Hong Kong coordinated the efforts of the Caritas network and implemented continuous aid activities in the main fields of food aid and medical assistance. Since 2006 Caritas Korea has been coordinating this work for the Caritas network.
Caritas’s work in North Korea is focused on four areas: 1) Humanitarian Assistance, 2) Health Services, 3) Food Security, 4) Supporting the Most Vulnerable.
We have also supported projects to provide food to TB patients in care centres since 2008. With the World Food Programme, this year we developed a project called “Food for Community Development” which has been launched in four counties. This focuses more on development than on urgent food assistance.
This is my third visit to North Korea in two months to follow up on the work Caritas is doing. I visited Pyongyang and North Hwanghae in June and Gaeseong City in July.
Following a decision by the bishops, Caritas Korea has become a united channel to support North Korea within the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea. As a result of this decision we expect Korean Catholic Church’s capacity for aid work in North Korea will be reinforced and be more effective than before.
Caritas Korea, as an official agency for international emergency and development of the Catholic Church in Korea, supported 575 emergency and development programmes and projects in the world to the amount of US$23 million for the period 1993 to 2010.