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Sunday, March 26, 2017
Three million children in North Korea face hunger as aid dries up
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¬†Kathi Zellweger, director of the International Co-operation for Caritas-Hong Kong fears details of North Korea's nuclear programme will make donors even more reluctant to give food aid. Caritas is one of the biggest non-government contributors of aid to North Korea. Since 1995, Caritas has launched an appeal for North Korea every year. Up to the end of March 2002, Caritas provided assistance to North Korea worth over £16 million. CAFOD gave £50,000 this year towards the Caritas appeal, and has given more than £300,000 since 2000. Caritas tries to help seven million people in North Korea in the areas of food aid, health and agriculture. Zellweger, who has just completed her 40th visit to North Korea, said, "One third of the population of over 22 million rely on food aid. The vulnerable are most in need - children, the elderly, and those in hospital. It is certain that millions of lives have been saved because of international aid, but the need for humanitarian assistance remains. "From November 1, the money from donors ran out and Caritas must stop giving nutritional biscuits to three million children. If we get no more pledges by January, 1.5 million pregnant mothers and their children will also be affected." While Caritas feels compelled to reach out to the North Korean people, the politics of humanitarian aid, coupled with donor fatigue, are two of the biggest challenges when dealing with North Korea. North Korea's social, economic and political problems are beyond what aid agencies can help to solve, but Caritas' role is also to bridge the divide. Zellweger said the task was made more difficult by the revelation that North Korea had continued its nuclear weapons programme, contravening a 1994 agreement: "A hungry child knows nothing of politics. We have a moral obligation to help. There is surplus food everywhere - in Japan, China and Russia, not to speak of Europe and the United States. Think how much we waste. I saw old women with clothes bags picking up individual grains of rice out of the field after the harvest. They know that hard times are ahead." Zellweger said the daily life for the average North Korean is a grim struggle, but their resilience, dignity and determination to work hard are impressive: "The average seven-year-old boy in South Korea is 125cm tall and weighs 26kg, while his cousin in the north is 105cm tall and weighs 16kg. There is chronic malnutrition everywhere that impairs both physical and mental growth." Caritas Internationalis is a network of 154 Catholic relief, development and social service organizations, including CAFOD, which are present in 198 countries and territories. Caritas-Hong Kong is the liaison agency for Caritas' work in North Korea.
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