Providing humanitarian assistance to the people of North Korea

Providing humanitarian assistance to the people of North Korea

June 19, 2007
Written by Michelle May

Bongsu noodle factory and bakery. Photo by Callie Long, ACT International.

ACT International, in which the United Church of Christ holds membership, has been providing humanitarian assistance to the people of the Democratic Republic of North Korea since the 90s, when a flood in mid-1995 devastated the country. The flood marked the beginning of a drawn-out and ongoing "emergency," in that the country simply could not cope with the natural disasters that followed. The collapse of one of North Korea's greatest allies, the Soviet Union, had already dealt the country's economy a severe blow, and with 22 million people to support, the government of this isolated nation could no longer sustain its population. Recent threats of nuclear re-armament by the government have only increased the country's isolation, a country, which at best can be described as fragile and embattled. Millions of North Koreans today rely on the food aid being sent to their country to survive.

The most recent shipment of 420 metric tons (132,000 pounds) of refined wheat flour to the Democratic Republic of North Korea (DPRK) donated by Church World Service (CWS), was supported by One Great Hour of Sharing. The wheat, which filled seven railway freight cars, each carrying 2,400 55-pound bags of flour, was destined for baby homes, children's centers and maternity hospitals. The flour will be enough to bake some 132,000 loaves of bread. A recent CWS delegation visiting the DPRK toured the Bongsu Noodle Factory and Bakery, where they saw some of the flour sent by CWS.

Although the actual humanitarian situation has seen some improvement, especially in the nutritional status of the people in general, there is still a need to many people's diets. A bakery in the capital of DPRK, Pyongyang, which is supported by ACT, used the flour donated by ACT members to bake high-protein biscuits. A good harvest in 2002, in combination with a good global humanitarian response, has caused a significant reduction in malnutrition rates. However, "the crisis is not over" was the clear message by the UN's World Food Program (WFP) executive director late last year.

ACT members have provided food and non-food items to various target groups and geographical areas since 1996. ACT works in close cooperation with WFP and FALU, its food liaison unit in DPRK, as well as through its local member, Korean Christian Federation (KCF).

The Korean Christian Federation (KCF) represents the Protestant churches in North Korea and is the equivalent of a national Christian council. KCF joined the DPRK government appeal in 1995 and requested humanitarian assistance and support from ACT. Since then, ACT has worked co-operatively and in coordination with KCF, building on the long-term relations already established through KCF's work with the World Council of Churches and utilizing KCF's capacity whenever possible for the facilitation and provision of humanitarian work.

All gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing are tax deductible and 100% of designated gifts go to the designated area of response. Non-designated funds are encouraged. They allow One Great Hour of Sharing to address future hidden and forgotten emergencies around the world.  

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Phyllis Y. Richards
Program Associate, Global Sharing of Resources
700 Prospect Ave.
Cleveland, OH 44115