NGOs in Action: The Welthungerhilfe Case
The expulsion of a single aid worker is hardly a trend, but this case could be worth watching. North Korea has, without explanation, expelled the head of the German NGO Welthungerhilfe. In an earlier post from 2011, we spotlighted the work of the organization and a wrangle it had with the WFP/FAO, but Cankor provides a good summary that we will just cite verbatim:
“Welthungerhilfe has been working in the DPRK since 1997, providing emergency items such as food, coal, and children’s clothes. At the end of the 1990s, it began agricultural projects in South Hwanghae and North Pyong’an provinces to improve seeds, diversify and intensify agricultural production, and maintain agricultural equipment more efficiently. They also built a large maize seed processing factory that is producing 7,000 tons of seed annually. In addition, it helped build 600 greenhouses and 15 starch and noodle processing units along with 200 rural water systems, rehabilitate dozens of local bakeries, and improve 36 machinery workshops.”
Why focus on this single case? Because the expulsion came with no explanation and we have seen such responses before. In Famine in North Korea, we documented a pattern with respect to food aid: when the economy picks up, the regime feels that it does not have the same need for support and may even see it as meddling and conspiring.
Two related stories suggest these concerns might be at work. The recent arrest of two South Koreans was accompanied by a press conference that put on display an extraordinary level of paranoia about foreign intervention in the country, with spies lurking around every corner. And as I concluded, the fears may be warranted. Roberta Cohen has a forthcoming piece that we will discuss in more detail about how the UN system—including its aid programs—can work more assiduously to keep human rights on the agenda. Needless to say, this would be highly unwelcome in Pyongyang.
Although apparently isolated, this case is worth following. Either North Korea is being capricious and ungrateful, or it has seen something on the ground with respect to the NGO’s activities that it doesn't like. Both are interesting.
NGOs in Action Posts
Witness to Transformation is always interested in showcasing NGOs doing humanitarian and human rights work on North Korea; if you know of organizations or work that would be of interest to our readers, feel free to inform us. These posts are for informational purposes only and do not constitute an endorsement.