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North Korea: Witness to Transformation

Slave to the Blog (STTB): NGO Edition

by | March 26th, 2014 | 07:00 am

In the last week, we have picked up several interesting stories on NGOs operating in North Korea. As always our hats go off to these organizations; our posts on other NGOs are appended below.

The aid issue is once again roiling the waters in South Korea. A coalition of South Korean NGOs called the Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation had initiated an effort to raise $11 million to send a million bags of fertilizer—20,000 metric tons—to North Korea. It was scheduled to host a launch event in Seoul last week, but the event was abruptly canceled. The effort was unusual because the organization’s chairman, Hong Sa-duk, is close to President Park. Hong claimed that the delay was organizational: that they did not get the word out to the 187 participating organizations and attendees in time and that the website was not yet set up to take donations. Yet there has also been concern that the organization’s efforts may violate the so-called May 24 sanctions imposed by the Lee Myung-bak administration in the aftermath of the sinking of the Cheonan. Those sanctions permit approved humanitarian aid to North Korea, but ban shipments of rice, corn or fertilizer which could go to the regime’s military. Minister of Unification Ryoo Kihl-jae gave credence to possible disagreements within the administration when he weighed in on the issue by saying that the timing was not right to send fertilizer to the North—perhaps a reference to the recent missile tests—and that progress was needed on the nuclear front before such aid would be forthcoming (Kyunghang Shinmun).

Next up: Handicap International got its start in the fight against anti-personnel mines and cluster munitions and helping the victims of these unexploded devices; its mandate has subsequently expanded to assisting the disabled in developing countries more generally. The Belgian branch of the organization has undertaken a number of projects in the country, including assistance to miners, the hearing-impaired and provision of prostheses. In a stressed healthcare system, these are exactly the types of activities that are likely to get short shrift.

Finally, we noticed two paired stories on deforestation. We and others have long argued that North Korea’s natural disasters are in part man-made; that inattention to flood-control infrastructure and deforestation have contributed to the country’s vulnerability. The World Resources Institute has a new data and mapping project on deforestation that is currently in beta called Global Forest Watch. Needless to say, its depressing. Country pages provide basic information on forest cover and loss (roughly comparable for North and South Korea last year, but with more devastating effect in the North), the industry, carbon stocks and accession to various conventions. Dong-a Ilbo reports on a number of initiatives—including its own—that seek to make reforestation a focus of North-South cooperation, and President Park’s Trustpolitik has also emphasized green North-South projects. The story reports on new findings by the Korea Forest Research Institute based on analysis of German commercial satellite images that show rapid urban as well as rural deforestation associated with urban reclamation and unregulated lumbering.

NGOs in Action Posts: