The flags of South and North Korea (123rf)
South Korea on Friday decided to provide up to 10 billion won ($8.51 million) to civilian organizations that are carrying out aid projects for North Korea, as the government seeks to engage the North through humanitarian assistance.
Under the decision approved during a civilian-government committee on inter-Korean exchanges, the Unification Ministry set aside up to 10 billion won to support civilian group-led projects that tackle nutrition and health conditions for vulnerable groups in North Korea. Organizations can receive up to 500 million won for a single project.
“As the COVID-19 lockdown prolongs, North Korea’s food and medical supply shortage is said to be getting serious,” Unification Minister Lee In-young said at the start of the committee meeting. “Through the support of 10 billion-won fund, we hope our compassion will be sent to the North Korean people so that their lives will become safer and trust between the two Koreas improves.”
The ministry will start receiving applications this month. The organizations must first obtain consent from the North on their projects before applying for the government funding.
It is still unclear how many groups will be eligible for the funding, as the North has been showing no interest in Seoul’s offer for humanitarian assistance, amid the country’s border lockdown on COVID-19 concerns.
The North has suffered chronic food insecurity for years, but the situation was aggravated by last year’s flooding that wreaked havoc on its farming sector. The COVID-19 outbreak has also exacerbated the country’s food crisis, as the North, which relies on food and other materials from China, suspended all trade with its main trading partner to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Seoul has been in talks with Washington to provide humanitarian assistance to the North, with the US special representative on North Korea, Sung Kim, saying the US supports aid to the North regardless of progress on denuclearization.
But the North has repeatedly refused offers of aid or talks, with the North accusing the US of using humanitarian aid as a “sinister political scheme” to put pressure on other countries.