S. Korea to send 50,000 tonnes of rice to the North

Trucks from the Republic of Korea carrying 500 tons of flour for flood victims in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) move into the DPRK across the heavily fortified border in Paju, north of Seoul, on Sept 21, 2012. (AFP pic)

SEOUL: South Korea said Wednesday it will send 50,000 tonnes of rice to North Korea via the World Food Programme to help the country cope with a severe food shortage.

The isolated, impoverished North – which is under several sets of sanctions over its nuclear weapon and ballistic missile programmes – has long struggled to feed itself and suffers chronic food shortages.

“The government cannot ignore the plight among North Korean people,” said Seoul’s unification ministry, which handles inter-Korean relations.

It will be the first time the South has provided food aid to the North since 2010, when it sent 5,000 tonnes of rice across the border.

It comes after a joint report last month by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation and WFP that said about 10.1 million North Koreans – 40% of the population – were suffering from severe food shortages and that conditions could be exacerbated in the absence of aid.

The North’s state media also reported in May that the country was experiencing the worst drought since 1917.

After “close consultation” with the WFP, Seoul decided to send domestic rice “without delay,” Seoul’s unification ministry said.

“The time and scale for additional food aid to the North will be decided at a later date, after reviewing the results of this round of support.”

The WFP and the North will consult on the distribution of the aid, which will be monitored by the UN agency, said unification minister Kim Yeon-chul.

Pyongyang has been frequently condemned by the international community for decades of prioritising the military and its nuclear weapons programme over adequately providing for its people – an imbalance some critics say the UN’s aid programme encourages.