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UN Security Council sanctions resolutions make provision for exemptions where sanctions may have an adverse impact on the civilian population of the DPRK.
Information on how and who can submit a request for a humanitarian exemption to sanctions imposed on the DPRK by the UN Security Council can be found on the Security Council web site here. This web page also provides more detailed information on the applications made for exemptions by each of the organisations listed below.
There are currently 22 exemptions in effect. The organistions and the purposes of the humanitarian assistance for which they seek an exemption is listed below. An exemption normally expires after six months. The start and end date (where it applies) is in brackets at the end of each entry:
- United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF): Shipment of items to the DPRK essential for UNICEF’s programmes in the DPRK, including its programme to combat tuberculosis and malaria and its immunisation programme (18 January 2019 to18 July 2019).
- United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF): Import of items essential for UNICEF’s programmes in the DPRK, including its health, nutrition, and water, sanitation and hygiene programmes, necessary for the delivery of safe water supply to communities and to allow for the effective treatment of individuals admitted to hospitals, in particular malnourished children and mothers(11 April 2019 to 11 October 2019).
- Eugene Bell Foundation (EBF): U.S. NGO. Purchase and shipment of medicine and related equipment required for its multi-drug resistant tuberculosis treatment program in DPRK (18 January 2019 to 18 July 2019).
- Christian Friends of Korea (CFK): U.S. NGO. Shipments planned for delivery by CFK to the DPRK in relation to its humanitarian projects for vulnerable populations of tuberculosis, hepatitis and/or pediatric patients in the DPRK (18 January 2019 to 18 July 2019).
- First Steps Health Society (First Steps): Canadian NGO. Shipment of 300 20-litre stainless-steel soymilk cans to the DPRK as part of its assistance and relief activities in the DPRK to prevent malnutrition in children (18 January 2019 to 18 July 2019).
- First Steps Health Society (First Steps): Canadian NGO. Import of soymilk processing systems to the DPRK by the First Steps Health Society as part of its assistance and relief activities for the benefit of the civilian population of the DPRK (12 March 2019 to 12 September 2019).
- Handicap International (now known as Humanity & Inclusion – HI): French-headquartered NGO. Shipment of materials and equipment required for Handicap International’s early detection and intervention project to enable possible prevention of disabilities in children (25 January 2019 to 25 July 2019).
- Handicap International (now known as Humanity & Inclusion – HI): French-headquartered NGO. Shipment of materials and equipment to the DPRK by Handicap International required for its projects on inclusion and social protection of people with vulnerabilities into sudden and slow onset disaster risk preparedness and response, and on achieving inclusion into communities for people with disabilities through improved access to services (30 January 2019 to 30 July 2019).
- Swiss Humanitarian Aid: Swiss Government Agency. Delivery of goods to the DPRK by Swiss Humanitarian Aid, part of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) which is the international development agency of Switzerland’s Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA). The exemption is for SDC’s projects on solar pump drinking water supply systems for Ryonggung Ri, North Hwanghae Province, and on gabion wire for flood protection of affected population in North and South Hwanghae Provinces (30 January 2019 30 to July 2019).
- World Vision International: U.S. NGO. Shipment of materials and equipment required for World Vision International’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Project (30 January 2019 to 30 July 2019).
- International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC): Procurement and shipment of materials to the DPRK required for IFRC’s activities relating to ensuring the safety of pregnant women and new-born children, treatment of infectious diseases, conducting health promotion activities and surveillance of infectious diseases, emergency aid for evacuations and safety, provide potable water and improve sanitation in target communities, and first aid in the case of accidents and emergencies (30 January 2019 to 30 July 2019).
- Première Urgence Internationale (PUI): French NGO. Import of items into the DPRK for PUI’s projects in South Hwanghae Province on improving children’s nutritional status and households’ resilience, responding to the prolonged food crisis by strengthening nutritional diversity in kindergartens and preschools, and capitalisation on animal food production knowledge (29 January 2019 to 29 July 2019).
- Première Urgence Internationale (PUI): French NGO. Import of items into the DPRK by PUI for its project in South Hwanghae Province on responding to the protracted food crisis by strengthening nutritional diversity in nurseries and kindergartens (11 March to 2019 11 September 2019).
- World Health Organisation (WHO): Import of items pertaining to WHO’s emergency preparedness policies for its country office, i.e. decontamination kits, a radiation detector kit, and radio communications equipment, as a matter of staff safety and security, which is a necessary prerequisite for WHO’s humanitarian activities in the DPRK (14 February 2019 to 14 August 2019).
- Concern Worldwide: Irish NGO. Procurement and import of items into the DPRK within the scope of activities undertaken by Concern Worldwide, which are intended for humanitarian assistance and relief in the areas of food and nutrition security and access to water, sanitation and hygiene, for the benefit of the civilian population in the DPRK (15 February to 2019 15 August 2019).
- Deutsche Welthungerhilfe: German NGO. Delivery of goods and equipment to the DPRK intended for humanitarian purposes by Deutsche Welthungerhilfe e.V. required for its activities concerning the provision of safe drinking water (20 February to 2019 20 August 2019).
- Triangle Génération Humanitaire (TGH): French NGO. Import of items into the DPRK by Triangle Génération Humanitaire to implement assistance and relief projects undertaken by TGH for the benefit of the civilian population of the DPRK aimed at improving better care and resilience of elderly people (12 March 2019 to 12 September 2019).
- United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA): Procurement and shipment of Emergency Reproductive Health (RH) kits to provide life-saving sexual and reproductive health services for women in the DPRK (12 March 2019 to 12 September 2019).
- Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF): International NGO. Import of items into the DPRK by MSF to engage in humanitarian activities, in particular enabling the commencement of MSF’s medical project which primarily aims at improving the diagnostic and treatment of tuberculosis (TB) as well as multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) among the population of North Hamgyong Province; and addressing urgent and general medical needs at the community-level in the county of Kyongsong of North Hamgyong Province(12 March 2019 to 12 September 2019).
- Mennonite Central Committee (MCC): U.S./Canadian NGO. Import of items into the DPRK for urgent humanitarian use that are essential for the implementation of MCC’s projects directly benefiting vulnerable civilian populations through improving children’s health and nutrition in the DPRK(14 March 2019 to 14 September 2019).
- Love North Korea Missions (LNKM): U.S. Christian NGO. Import of items into the DPRK for humanitarian activities aimed at improving access to clean drinking water in the Rason region (4 April 2019 4 to October 2019).
- International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC): Import of items into the DPRK by the ICRC for the implementation of its humanitarian programs pertaining to physical rehabilitation, support to health care, peri-urban water supply, and support to the DPRK Red Cross Society emergency response (11 June 2019 to 11 December 2019).
Yle, Finland’s national public broadcasting company, reports that the Pentecostal Church-run Finnish NGO Fida has said that it is pulling out of the DPRK, after operating there for more than 20 years.
Fida, which engages in missionary and development work, said on June 11, 2019, that it will end its humanitarian aid and development programmes in the DPRK because autonomous financial sanctions imposed by the U.S. in the past few months have made operations in the DPRK increasingly difficult.
The round of U.S. sanctions target international banking and Fida has said they are making it impossible for the organisation to implement projects in the DPRK.
“We are disappointed that the tightening of sanctions has suddenly begun to prevent global humanitarian operations. Leaving North Korea was a difficult decision for us because there is a great need for aidis in the country. We will have to end the long-term work that has made our operation functional,” said Fida secretary general Harri Hakola.
Fida is Finland’s largest development aid and missionary organisation. Its development work in the DPRK was funded by the Finnish Foreign Ministry. It has assisted with the development of potato farming in the DPRK since 2001. Fida said that the crop has provided additional nutrition for rural communities and reduced malnutrition among children.
In Finland, Fida is known for the large chain of secondhand stores with a total of 25 outlets. They are pioneers of recycling and established the first charity secondhand shop in Helsinki in 1979.
Full story from Yle here.
The food situation in the DPRK is not just a matter of statistics; it should be about individuals too
NK News published a story on May 3, 2019, by Leo Byrne with the headline “10.1 million people in North Korea food insecure: FAO, WFP“. It cited a UN assessment that drew universally negative conclusions about the DPRK’s food security.
The assessment noted poor food variety, low consumption levels, low yields, harvest losses, while predictions for upcoming yields also indicated further declines in food production.
It was conducted by the UN’s World Food Program (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), who sent a team to the DPRK from March 29 to April 12, 2019.
Key take aways from the NK News story about the UN assessment were that:
- “Overall, it is estimated that 10.1 million people (40 percent of the population) are food insecure and in urgent need of food assistance.”
- Environmental factors, “coupled with limited supplies of agricultural inputs, had a severe impact on yields of the 2018 main crops harvested last September/October.”
- The joint report noted a decrease in rations distributed by the DPRK government’s Public Distribution System (PDS) from 380 grams per day to 300, adding that portion size could fall further in upcoming, leaner months.
Three weeks later, NK News/NK Pro followed up with a more reflective and deeper analysis of the food situation in the DPRK which was posted by Chad O’Carroll. It was headlined “North Korea’s ‘hunger crisis’: what experts make of the UN data“.
One of the experts interviewed for this latter article said that there is no “true crisis” and taken in the context of other DPRK indicators, the article concluded that the FAO/WFP assessments of a pending “crisis” may be exaggerated.
While we at NKhumanitarian acknowledge that these commentators are genuinely trying to understand the food situation in the DPRK based on the information that they have, it seems to us that they are focusing on whether the evidence points to possible famine and thus whether there will be starvation among the population.
However that focus misses the serious lived reality in the DPRK which is that many people there face permanent food shortage. There is a resource crisis in which getting access to sufficient food, fuel, medicine, education, etc., has become a constant and all consuming struggle for a significant proportion of the population.
When a contributor to the NK Pro article, Benjamin Silberstein, says it “looks bad … but in context not catastrophic” we need to remember that ‘bad’ in the context of the DPRK is pretty terrible – maybe not Yemen famines – but pretty bad.
While the couching of the discussion in economic terms around ‘world benchmark prices’ and statistics has its place, it totally takes away from the human story that should also be told; of constant under nourishment, numbing cold, lack of access to medicine, and the fact that the WFP and UN’s efforts in the DPRK have been constantly underfunded.
We should remember too that a number of international aid organisations have stopped working in the DPRK, among them Save the Children International which began scaling back its operations in April 2018, citing difficulties in receiving deliveries of supplies and transferring/transporting cash into the country as the result of sanctions (UN and European Union). It is no longer resident in the DPRK.
The few international humanitarian organisations that remain struggle because many items essential for humanitarian aid are anyway under sanction (see, for example, our recent postings “UN approves plan to streamline aid delivery to the DPRK” and “Handicap International finally granted UN sanctions exemption for humanitarian work in the DPRK“).
We at NKhumanitarian feel that the discussion around availability and access in the DPRK to basic needs such as food, fuel and medicine is too dry. We believe that in all these discussions the narrative should remind the reader of the impact on individuals, especially as these discussions about the DPRK are not accompanied by television news and documentary footage which other crises have the benefit of.
So when we read analyses such as that discussed in the NK News/NK Pro article cited above, let’s be absolutely clear about the North Korean ‘context’ of those analyses. They might not demonstrate a pending ‘crisis’ anywhere near the scale of the calamity of the North Korean famine in the late 1990s early 2000s. However, by any reasonable assessment, the analyses demonstrate that a large proportion of the population in the DPRK live in a state of permanent crisis characterised by food shortages and malnutrition which in other countries would be addressed through aid and other international support.
 NK News underlines this point in an article posted by Daniel Collinge on May 28th, 2019. It cites a report released by the Seoul Office of the UN’s Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OCHR) which presents a picture of a government in the DPRK “failing on two fronts: to provide the basic needs of the people through the state apparatus, and to ensure a safe environment where people can access these needs through their own endeavors to produce, buy and sell goods.”
Daniel Hurst writing for the Guardian, May 14, 2019, reports that fears are growing for young children and other vulnerable groups as a drought in the DPRK threatens to worsen food shortages.
We wrote last month that the DPRK already recognised the “dangerousness” of the current food supply situation in the country.
State-run media is now reporting that rainfall was at record lows for the first five months of the year while the Red Cross said the drought that began in early spring was adding to the woes of last year when food production fell to the lowest level in a decade.
The Guardian reminds us that four in 10 people in North Korea are estimated to be in urgent need of food assistance.
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has added its voice to warn of growing humanitarian issues: “We are particularly concerned about the impact that this early drought will have on children and adults who are already struggling to survive,” said Mohamed Babiker, who heads the North Korea office of the IIFRC.
“Even before this drought, one in five children under five years old was stunted because of poor nutrition. We are concerned that these children will not be able to cope with further stress on their bodies.”
The IFRC also fears for pregnant and breastfeeding women, older people and those with chronic illness as the drought could exacerbate hunger, malnutrition and health problems.
It seems clear that the current drought problems in the DPRK are related to climate change says Daniel Wallinder, a disaster risk management delegate for the
IFRC, who is quoted in the Guardian article.
“What we see now is lack of snow during the winter leaving crops exposed to freezing temperatures as well as prolonged dry spells due to rainfall that is lower and less predictable,” Wallinder said in a statement.
“For people who are living on the margins, these changes can be devastating.”
The Guardian article also quotes David Beasley, the executive director of the United Nations World Food Programme (UN/WFP), who met with South Korean ministers in Seoul on May 13, and said he held “very serious concerns” about food security north of the border.
After the meeting South Korea said it would move quickly on plans to provide $8 million worth of medical and nutritional aid for North Korean children through UN agencies while it also considers sending broader food aid to the country.
Lee Sang-min, spokesman for Seoul’s Unification Ministry (MoU), said the government will discuss its plans with the World Food Program (WFP) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), through which the aid would be provided, so it reaches North Korean children and pregnant women quickly. South Korea is also trying to build public and political support for providing wider food aid to North Korea, either directly or through the WFP.
Building that concensus at home and abroard has just become a little more difficult. On May 4 the DPRK tested a new short-range balistic missile and followed this on May 9 with a defensive ‘missile launch drill’ that involved two other short-range missiles tests and the practise firing from multiple-missile launchers.
Unnoticed in the flurry of commentary that followed these events, was the news that in the same week the U.S. successfully tested another Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). This was the second Minuteman III test during May, the first taking place on May 1. However both launches had been planned and announced by the U.S. many months earlier.
The North Korean short-range missile tests has raised concerns over prospects of reaching a comprehensive deal on denuclearisation and prompted Taro Kono, Japan’s foreign minister, to say that it would be “premature” to send food aid as North Korea’s leadership was prioritising nuclear weapon and missile development over people’s welfare.
David Beasley of the WFP might hope to focus minds on the genuine humanitarian needs of the DPRK. In an interview with the Guardian in April, just before North Korea’s latest set of missile tests, he said: “We make the case: don’t let innocent children suffer because of politics.”
In that context it should be remembered that the UN Security Council has repeatedly reaffirmed that its sanctions provisions are not intended to have adverse humanitarian consequences for the civilian population of the DPRK, and that it will exempt from sanctions those activities that would facilitate the work of international and non-governmental organisations engaged in assistance and relief activities for civilian benefit.
For more on the drought and the DPRK’s experience of famine, see the May 16, 2019 BBC story “North Korea suffers worst drought in decades“.
Electricity blackouts increase: more ‘power-saving’ measures instituted as drought affects hydroelectricity generation
It is estimated that the DPRK depends on hydroelectric generation for 60%-70% of its electricity supply. Each winter freezing conditions cause a considerable deterioration in the power supply situation but April usually brings some respite though, with electricity production returning to ‘normal’ levels as frozen rivers melt and dams are able to start operating again fully.
But low rainfall in North Korea means a shortage of hydro power and as the country experiences its worst drought in 37 years, according to the BBC in a May 16, 2019 report, the electricity supply situation appears to have worsened this April.
At a time when the regime is calling on its citizens to “battle” against the crop damage caused by the drought, it is not surprising that, unlike in previous years, the electricity situation has not yet improved.
The April edition of Rimjin-gang magazine quotes a Hoeryong resident saying they haven’t had electricity for 6 months while industry only gets 6 hours a day. Most of the electricity supply in that region is diverted to Samjiyon for a showcase building project it is claimed.
The magazine reports that, meanwhile, government and party offices, police stations, and industrial centers are understood to be receiving electricity for about half of the day, although even this is not reliably supplied.
The electricity supply problems in the DPRK are observable from outside the country. Satellite photos taken at night, for example, reveal the DPRK as the darkest country in Asia, according to Paul Risley (@pauldrisley). Chris Greenway (@ChrisGreenwayUK of the BBC Monitoring Service) notes that this is the case even in “good” years of electricity supply. He adds that from a radio monitoring perspective, it’s been speculated that the regular interruptions that are noted in the operations of North Korean jammers interfering with foreign radio stations might be due to power cuts – even for something that’s seen as a priority.
The same Rimjin-gang article reports that ‘power-saving’ is being instituted across an expanding region of residential areas. The magazine’s publisher (Asia Press) has used its ‘reporting partners’ to survey various parts of North Korea, finding that electricity was not being supplied to an increasing number of areas in North Hamgyong Province, Yanggang Province, and South Pyongan Province.
In October 2018, Rimjin-gang had reported that the power supply to residents in the northern regions of the DPRK has been cut off from that month. This, it said, was due “to electricity being diverted to Samjiyeon for the construction of a tourist zone, a project in which Kim Jong-un has taken great interest. Locals residents are becoming increasingly upset with the situation as they are being mobilized to work on the project and yet have no power in their homes.”
It quoted a reporting partner residing in Hyesan City, close to Samjiyeon, claiming that “I thought that I would finally be able to live a decent life, but I was disappointed.” The reporting partner had been living without a stable power supply since the end of October and reported that, “at the moment,” there is no power whatsoever being supplied to Hyesan City.
The sudden and complete blackouts appear to have begun when Kim Jong-un visited Samjiyeon County at the end of October 2018. According to the reporting partner, the authorities explained the reason for the power outages thus:
“Kim Jong-un gave orders to concentrate all efforts on the construction work at Samjiyeon, so the electricity originally intended for residents in the northern provinces of Yanggang, Chagang and North Hamgyong have been directed to Samjiyeon as a top priority.”
Samjiyeon County is located at the foot of Mt. Baekdu, the famous mountain visited by South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in in September 2018.
As background to the increasing use of ‘power-saving’ measures, Rimjin-gang reports that in November 2016, following Kim Jong-un’s orders, a large number of residents were mobilised in order to quickly complete construction of a special tourism zone in Samjiyeon.
From late 2017, the power supply to residential areas, except for Pyongyang, worsened nationwide. To compensate, the government created an increasing number of ‘power-saving’ districts where electricity was only partially supplied. In June of 2018, however, the power supply situation suddenly improved, with rumors going around that Kim Jong-un had negotiated with President Xi for China to supply power to North Korea.
Rimjin-gang said that this improvement greatly pleased average North Koreans. As electricity was being provided for about 10 hours a day across the country, locals began to think that they would be able to “live like human beings”. However, the improvement was not to last as power was abruptly cut off at the end of October 2018. In Yanggang Province, the supply of electricity suddenly decreased from 18-24 hours of service per day to just 10 hours a day.
It seems that in 2019 the electricity supply problem in the DPRK is unlikely to improve and could worsen if the current drought continues.
Dagyum Ji, writing in NK News (April 16th, 2019), reports that a leaked internal DPRK memo stressed the “dangerousness” of current food supply situation.
He says that a document obtained by NK News last week showed that the North Korean government believes urgent action will be needed to ensure food security for the country in April. This seems, in part, because grain output in 2018 has reportedly fallen by 10% compared to the previous year.
The undated Korean-language memo carrying the emblem of the DPRK Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said that the crop yields in 2018 had amounted to 4,951,000 tons, 503,000 tons less than the previous year.
Full story in NK News here.
Daniel Boffey in Brussels writing for The Guardian (Wed 3 Apr 2019) reports that western donors have been urged to ‘put children before politics’ in face of food shortfall.
David Beasley, the head of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and a former Republican governor of South Carolina who backed Trump’s campaign for the U.S. presidency, has called for the White House and other western donors to put children’s lives before politics and fund a major injection of aid to the DPRK despite the failure of Donald Trump’s summit with Kim Jong-un.
Due to flooding and a heatwave last year, the DPRK is facing a shortfall of 1.4m tonnes in food production this year, including wheat, rice, potatoes and soybean.
Boffey notes that an estimated 11 million people – 40% of the population – are already undernourished, with one in five children stunted due to chronic malnutrition.
“This is a serious issue and children are going to be severely impacted if we do not do something by the time the lean season truly kicks in by June,” Beasley said.
“Russia has responded and is sending in 50,000 metric tonnes [of wheat], China is doing something too. Western donors are still hoping that the [breaking] of the impasse will take place so that everyone can come in together.”
Beasley added: “The concerns have been about not helping the regime. We make the case: don’t let innocent children suffer because of politics.”
Daniel Boffey reminds us in his article that the DPRK has struggled to feed its people for more than two decades and a famine in the 1990s left as many as one million dead – about 5% of the population at the time.
Furthermore, a recent report from the WFP (April 2, 2019) notes that more than 113 million people across 53 countries experienced acute hunger requiring urgent food, nutrition and livelihoods assistance.
Despite a slight decrease in these numbers in 2017, over the past three years, WFP reports have consistently shown that, year on year, more than 100 million people (2016, 2017 and 2018) have faced periods of acute hunger.
Those numbers do not include people in the DPRK.
Full story in The Guardian here.