The United States will suspend food aid to North Korea unless the Communist government permits wider monitoring of distribution to nurseries, kindergartens and hospitals, an official with the Agency for International Development warned on Thursday.
Some 2.6 million children under the age of 6, patients and workers in special programs to counter disasters are helped in an international program to which the United States this year contributed 177,000 metric tons of grain.
While there is no evidence American corn, rice and other food aid is being diverted to North Korea’s military or stolen, international relief monitors do not have access to areas in the north and the center of the country, officials said.
The Word Food Program, which is providing 330,000 metric tons overall, has asked North Korea to permit 17 monitors to oversee distribution, but only seven have been approved.
While China, which is providing 150,000 tons of food, does not insist on monitoring, the United States does, and it has not permitted its contributions to go into fenced-off areas.
“We still feel our food is adequately being overseen,” Leonard Rogers, an administrator with AID said.
But, he added, “We will not provide assistance unless there is effective monitoring.”
In fact, “We will decline to participate” and “will be firm on the monitoring issue this next go-round because we have this experience which is unsatisfactory from our point of view.”
North Korea, which in the best of times is unable to feed itself adequately, has suffered major floods in 1995 and 1996, a serious drought this year and then a typhoon that devastated the rice yield.
The country also has been in serious economic decline for several years, compounded by the loss of trade after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the transition to democracy in Eastern and Central Europe.
A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “We don’t have a full picture of the food problem in North Korea yet.”