TOKYO – International sanctions on North Korea are taking a serious toll on humanitarian aid activities, according to a United Nations-led report.
The report issued this week by the U.N.'s senior resident official in Pyongyang said sanctions are inadvertently hindering legitimate operations on the ground and have indirectly contributed to a "radical decline" in donations it said are badly needed by millions of North Korean women and children.
It said "chronic food insecurity, early childhood malnutrition and nutrition insecurity" continue to be widespread in the North, which it noted ranked 98th out of 118 countries in the 2016 Global Hunger Index.
More than 10 million people — or about 41 percent of the North Korean population — are undernourished, it said.
To meet the "urgent needs of the most vulnerable," it called for $114 million in donations.
That could be a hard sell, no matter how dire the need.
Critics have long argued that aid to the North in effect serves to prop up the government by allowing it to focus more of its limited resources on building nuclear weapons, funding the country' million-man army or enriching the ruling elite, rather than spending on the segments of its population that are in the most need.
The report acknowledged such concerns have made getting donations increasingly difficult.
"The Democratic People's Republic of Korea is in the midst of a protracted, entrenched humanitarian situation largely forgotten or overlooked by the rest of the world," Tapan Mishra, who as resident coordinator in Pyongyang is responsible for U.N. development and other activities in the North, wrote in the report's introduction. "I appeal to donors not to let political considerations get in the way of providing continued support for humanitarian assistance and relief."
The report also noted sanctions are making it harder to conduct aid activities.
"While international sanctions imposed on DPRK clearly exempt humanitarian activities, they have unintentionally caused disruptions to humanitarian operations," it said.
In particular, it said the "regular disruption" of banking channels since 2013 has made it difficult or impossible to transfer funds into the country. It also cited the additional requirements for licenses and the time it takes to determine what is or is not a potential sanctions' violation as the cause of considerable delays that have forced agencies to "reprioritize" their aid activities.
It said the sanctions also have the psychological effect of making donors reluctant to provide funds for projects in the North.
"This is reflected in the radical decline in donor funding since 2012," it said. "As a result, agencies have been forced to significantly reduce the assistance they provide ... critical needs of some of the most vulnerable have not been met. More predictable funding is urgently required."
Like previous years, the aid priorities for 2017 are to improve nutrition, particularly for pregnant and breast-feeding women, and children under the age of five; ensure access to basic health services for the most vulnerable members of society; and to bolster assistance to the victims of natural disasters, while strengthening efforts to lessen the impact of the country's recurrent cycle of floods and drought.
The report, which was released online this week, noted that despite the need for better information and sufficient access to certain areas of the country, aid agencies operating in North Korea believe monitoring mechanisms are sufficient to ensure aid does indeed go to those who need it.
The report was put together by five U.N. agencies, seven international non-governmental organizations and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.