News

19 September 1997

TEXT: ATWOOD'S REMARKS TO KOREA SOCIETY FORUM ON NORTH KOREA

("Meaningful reform" must take place within North Korea) (2380)



Washington -- There are no linkages between humanitarian aid to North
Korea and political progress at the Four Party talks, according to
Brian Atwood, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International
Development (USAID).


In a September 19 address to a forum sponsored by the Korea Society
and the Congressional Hunger Center, Atwood said: "Let me be clear on
this point: We have been careful to maintain a strict separation
between our response to an immediate humanitarian crisis and our
desire for political progress at the Four Party talks. The North
Koreans themselves have pressed for such a linkage, but we have stuck
to basic humanitarian precepts."


"North Korea is still far from embarking on a transition to open
government and an open market," Atwood said. "Moreover, we must
recognize that in the medium term, our concerns with regard to North
Korea -- humanitarian, diplomatic, and yes, even military -- are all
interrelated," he said.


According to Atwood, decades of militaristic Communist rule have left
North Korea extremely isolated, and have resulted in economic and
agricultural mismanagement. Natural disasters, he said, have
aggravated the current food crisis, but are not the root cause of it.


"Unquestionably food aid, notably through the efforts of the World
Food Program, has saved lives," Atwood said. "The U.S. this year has
contributed 177,000 tons, most of it arriving during the leanest
period before this year's harvest. In 1995, severe flooding, caused by
torrential rains from July to August, swept through the western and
northern regions of North Korea. More than 1 million acres of arable
land were damaged just before harvest time and 500,000 people were
left homeless," he said.


"The humanitarian needs of North Korea will not be solved with short
term food aid," Atwood said. "The underlying causes of the decline in
agricultural production in North Korea must change if the current
cycle of hunger and malnutrition is to be broken. Here again, if North
Korea demonstrates it is willing to deal effectively with the causes
of its crisis, the U.S. will be willing to help, as will other
countries."


Following is the text of Atwood's remarks, as prepared for delivery:



(begin text)



Remarks by J. Brian Atwood



Korea Society/Congressional Hunger Center

Forum on North Korea



September 19, 1997

Washington, D.C.





I'd like to thank Tony Hall for making this event possible. As always
Tony, you are at the forefront when ordinary people are in dire need.
You have shown real leadership, not only on North Korea, but on a
range of humanitarian and development issues. You have been an
important voice for compassion, understanding and for showing average
Americans the importance of dealing with the world around them.


It is a tribute to you that we have such a diverse group here today to
consider North Korea -- the Department of State, the Department of
Defense, the World Food Program, private voluntary organizations and
Congressional representatives. This diverse gathering is also a
reflection of the complexity of the policy issues we confront in North
Korea.


North Korea's complexity is compounded by its isolation. North Korea
has been sharply cut off from most of the world for 50 years under an
autocratic communist regime. This experience has left North Korea with
a deep suspicion and hostility to the west and democratic values. The
fact that the North Koreans continue to see themselves as "at war"
even in 1997, and that they publicly describe themselves in this
optic, should greatly concern us all. These tensions are reflected in
the treatment of visitors and humanitarian organizations as well as in
the realm of diplomacy.


One thing seems clear: North Korea is still far from embarking on a
transition to open government and an open market. Moreover, we must
recognize that in the medium term, our concerns with regard to North
Korea -- humanitarian, diplomatic, and yes, even military -- are all
interrelated.


But let me be clear on this point: We have been careful to maintain a
strict separation between our response to an immediate humanitarian
crisis and our desire for political progress at the Four Party talks.
The North Koreans themselves have pressed for such a linkage, but we
have stuck to basic humanitarian precepts.


However, we have also recognized for some time that the food crisis in
North Korea is not the simple result of natural disasters such as
floods or drought. It has long been said that no democracy has ever
suffered a famine, and North Korea offers a vivid example of why
totalitarian regimes and centrally planned economies have always been
vulnerable to food shortages. There is an inexorable decline in North
Korea's agricultural production which is being driven by shortages of
inputs, inefficient technologies and counterproductive policies. North
Korea's industrial production has contracted by some 80 percent -- 80
percent -- since the late 1980s.


Past failure to honor international financial commitments means that
few institutions are willing to extend new credit to a country that
has willfully abrogated repayment. Association with terrorism, the
transfer of weapons to rogue states, the continuation of a technical
state of war with South Korea and the United States, have resulted in
trade sanctions and international condemnation. While barter continues
at minimal levels with some countries, and while China provides North
Korea with much of its imports, a downward economic spiral continues.


The only hope for reversing this decline lies with meaningful reform.
Such reform will require policy changes by the North Koreans. There is
a clear need to adopt the new practices -- technological and economic
-- necessary for efficient food production. In the long term,
participation in the international community is the only way that
North Korea can independently feed, clothe and advance the well-being
of its 23 million people.


The current progress in the Four Party talks is an encouraging sign
the North Koreans can be flexible and can see the benefits of change.
The international community has said it is ready to support the
adoption of agricultural reforms, and when the time comes, we will
raise this with the North Koreans directly.


However, in the short term, we face a major humanitarian crisis.
Clearly the people of North Korea are in severe distress. There have
been numerous reports of widespread malnutrition, especially among
children and the elderly. There have also been credible reports of
deaths. The Government, essentially the party, runs the country's
"Public Distribution System," or food dispensary. Floods, and now
drought, caused the government to reduce its cereal rationing, which
they announce regularly: from 350 grams to 300; from 300 to 250. Now,
the average official ration is 100 grams of grains per day, less than
a cupful. The average North Korean must augment this ration as best
they can.


Yet, the nature of the North Korean regime makes a reasoned response
difficult. We know that there is a severe food shortage in North
Korea. We know that a portion of the population suffers from
malnutrition. We know that livestock has been depleted in order to
conserve grains. But aside from anecdotal reports, we do not know the
magnitude of this man-made humanitarian crisis which could help us
better ease their pain and suffering. North Korea restricts movement
of foreigners. A nutritional assessment, under negotiation since early
1996 between the UN and North Korea, was finally begun a month ago.
Even then, the terms and scope were unilaterally modified to preclude
statistically valid sampling in the northern sections of the country.
Results are just becoming available.


North Korea has been flexible enough to encourage a wide range of
"coping mechanisms." They have concentrated on feeding all of their
people at least a little, refusing to write off any group. They have
developed alternative foods, encouraged more open markets and barter
with China, permitted more small private agricultural plots, and
encouraged multiple crops of summer vegetables. In the absence of
reliable data, it remains difficult to tell how successful these
efforts have been.


Unquestionably food aid, notably through the efforts of the World Food
Program, has saved lives. The U.S. this year has contributed 177,000
tons, most of it arriving during the leanest period before this year's
harvest. In Unquestionably food aid, notably through the efforts of
the World Food Program, has saved lives. The U.S. this year has
contributed 177,000 tons, most of it arriving during the leanest
period before this year's harvest. In 1995, severe flooding, caused by
torrential rains from July to August, swept through the western and
northern regions of North Korea. More than 1 million acres of arable
land were damaged just before harvest time and 500,000 people were
left homeless.


Between September 1995 and February 1996, the U.S. Agency for
International Development (USAID) released $2.25 million in
International Disaster Assistance funds to UNICEF and the WFP for
emergency health and food assistance. This funding also supported an
independent Food Program Observer from our Office of Foreign Disaster
Assistance who assessed the food distribution process.


The humanitarian crisis continued in North Korea throughout 1996 and
was aggravated by additional floods in late July that ravaged areas
that were struck by the 1995 floods. At least 117 people were
reportedly killed, 30,000 left homeless and nearly 2.5 million women
and children in the north were placed at serious risk of starvation.


In all, North Korea estimated that at least 5.2 million people have
been affected by the floods and ensuing food shortages. In response,
USAID's contributed over 13,000 metric tons of rice, corn meal, and
corn soya blend valued at nearly $6.3 million. These commodities went
to nurseries and kindergartens, clinics and hospitals. They also went
to those farming communities where crops had been wiped out, so that
the farmers themselves had food to eat until the new harvest could
come in.


On April 15, 1997 we announced we would provide an additional 50,000
metric tons of corn through the Office of Food For Peace valued at
nearly $15 million, to assist the roughly 2.6 million children under
the age of six in North Korea. This food aid also assisted in the
recovery of flood- affected arable land, as well as provided food to
hospital patients. On July 15 we announced the provision of an
additional 100,000 metric tons of food aid, in response to the
country's food crisis due to the chronic food production shortfalls,
exacerbated by the 1995 and 1996 floods. This brings total USG
humanitarian assistance to North Korea to date, to roughly $60.5
million.


The use of these commodities are being monitored by U.S. Private
Voluntary Organizations to ensure that our food reaches additional
vulnerable groups in the society. The World Food program will oversee
logistics related to the actual distribution of food and will provide
support for the PVO monitors.Our hope was that approximately 10 to 15
PVO staff would arrive in country in mid-August and would stay through
mid-November, when distribution of U.S. food will be completed and
food from the next harvest will be available. Unfortunately, the North
Korean government did not permit a presence of this size by our PVO
community. Five staff are in Pyongyang, and they have managed to
negotiate distribution monitoring in three key agricultural provinces.
We believe that full and free access to areas in which our assistance
is going is a minimal condition for humanitarian assistance, a
practice that is followed throughout the world.


We have always insisted in providing aid that no U.S. food must go to
the North Korean military. North Korea provides for an active military
in excess of 2 million people, as well as what we would consider
national guard units and militia. North Korea is a heavily armed
country which spends a great deal of its resources fueling its
military preparedness. This in itself creates issues related to
humanitarian assistance which our panelists will address.


We have no evidence U.S. food has been diverted to the military. In
fact, we need to be realistic about this regime and recognize there is
little need for the North Korean military to take food aid. We must
assume they are fully provisioned from domestic stocks. Also, Chinese
food aid is provided without strings, and to the limited extent
additional food is necessary, the Chinese food can be a source.


Assuming we can assure adequate monitoring, the U.S. will provide
additional humanitarian food aid to North Korea. We will await a final
assessment of need and we will want to review WFP's appeal for
assistance before deciding specific amounts. We also need to stress an
integrated relief response including food and health care is critical
to the ability to maintain the overall health of vulnerable
populations.


Most deaths in countries experiencing major food shortages result from
diseases that are exacerbated by malnutrition, rather than from
starvation. A substantial lack of critical assistance within the
health care sector may significantly undermine large-scale food
distribution efforts, by failing to prevent infectious disease and
critical micronutrient deficiencies in relief assistance beneficiary
groups. As such, attention to health care remains critical in North
Korea, as it does in other countries experiencing critical food
shortages.


The humanitarian needs of North Korea will not be solved with short
term food aid. The underlying causes of the decline in agricultural
production in North Korea must change if the current cycle of hunger
and malnutrition is to be broken. Here again, if North Korea
demonstrates it is willing to deal effectively with the causes of its
crisis, the U.S. will be willing to help, as will other countries.


Recent progress toward Four Party talks is perhaps a positive sign.
However, we are experienced enough to know change is difficult and
will be especially so in North Korea. We should not indulge in wishful
thinking about this regime or false optimism. Nor will we compromise
basic precepts that our food will not go to the military and that it
will be adequately monitored to assure it reaches intended
beneficiaries. Thank you.


(end text)