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Make loaves, not war

"Make loaves, not war" Continued...

Issue: "Power struggle," May 26, 2001

Abuse of foreign sympathy is not a new revelation. An Italian chef has recently divulged that, at the height of famine in 1997, a North Korean general flew him and a colleague to Pyongyang to make pizzas for the military brass. Ermanno Furlanis and Antonio Macchia were encouraged to bring their own pizza ovens, too. Officers studied their every technique, even measuring the distance between olives, and feasted in luxurious dining rooms during the chefs' three-week stay.

Doctors Without Borders, the international relief organization that won the Nobel Peace Prize for its ability to work in hard places, pulled out of North Korea two years ago over government interference and says it won't be going back. The organization complained that it was allowed only to use local interpreters and doctors coached in what to say, and that it could not keep tabs on its own aid. Other groups have pulled out, too. Those who remain include about 16 U.S.-based groups that work alongside the World Food Program. They acknowledge the reality of working under tyranny-portions of aid will be siphoned by the government-but say the alternative, not to deliver aid at all, is equally, if not more, abhorrent.

"You have to make connections with the government to work in North Korea," said Dave Worth, director of resource networks for the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). The Pennsylvania-based organization spends about $1 million annually to feed North Koreans. In 1996 its donations made headlines when cans of meat bearing the group's name showed up on a North Korean submarine that ran aground. But the publicity gave MCC leverage for arm-twisting officials into allowing it to track its donations. Since then, Mr. Worth said, "we have worked very hard to make sure that the food goes directly to the people." MCC sends food, oil, and vitamins to preschools and day-care centers where children have been collectivized by the government. An independent marine surveyor checks the donations when they arrive in port and verifies that they are loaded on trucks bound directly for those centers. The group also has been allowed to perform onsite inspections at the schools. This, according to Mr. Worth, has reduced "shrinkage" in the amount of food reaching children's mouths to 1 percent.

Problems persist, Mr. Worth acknowledges, in the large feeding programs where the government corrals 20,000-50,000 people to work in exchange for rations. "There is no way to monitor that," he said.

U.S. policymakers puzzle over North Korea's food dependence while, at the same time, its military might grows. With land mass slightly less than the size of Mississippi and a population less than a tenth of the United States, North Korea fields the fifth largest army in the world. Its long-range missile program is "one of the driving forces" behind plans for a U.S. missile defense system, according to Larry Wortzel of the Heritage Foundation. The Bush administration this month announced that it will renew talks with North Korea, but it "will insist on concrete measures," Mr. Wortzel said. "Food aid has to come under examination because the North Koreans are buying loads of new military equipment from the Russians," said Mr. Wortzel. "If you can run major exercises and afford to buy all that military equipment, the question you have to ask is, 'Why can't you buy food for your people?'"

Until now donor countries like the United States have not looked seriously at how North Korea is nourishing its 1.2 million soldiers. Relief groups long have assumed that some of their stores were being diverted, but say it is not in large enough quantity to feed an army. Aid workers hint that food coming from another source-possibly China-feeds soldiers while the rest of the population languishes.

Mindy Belz
Mindy Belz

Mindy travels to the far corners of the globe as the editor of WORLD and lives with her family in the mountains of western North Carolina. Follow Mindy on Twitter @mcbelz.

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