- In 1995 the DPRK (North Korean) government appealed to the international community for assistance to cope with gross food shortages, which threatened starvation for its people.
- UN humanitarian agencies that had had some relationship with the DPRK since the 1980s—the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the World Food Program (WFP)— responded to these appeals and became fully operational and resident in the country after 1995.
- Prior to the crisis of the mid-1990s, the DPRK had no experience of working with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) except for periodic links with the Red Cross and through its hosting of small delegations such as the American Friends Service Committee.
- The UN agencies and the NGOs had little knowledge of the politics, economy, culture, or society of the DPRK prior to their involvement in emergency assistance to the country.
- The DPRK government had a parallel lack of knowledge and understanding of the conventional requirements for international humanitarian assistance.
- Humanitarian agencies found common difficulties in the constraints placed by the government on monitoring, assessment, and evaluation and faced a dilemma about whether or on what terms to continue.
- Agency responses varied considerably, according to a multiplicity of factors, including country of origin, mandate, and type of donor.
- The majority perspective was that confidence building and a process of mutual comprehension had taken place and continues to evolve between the DPRK government and the humanitarian agencies.
- Although difficulties remain, the process of dialogue has facilitated an improvement in humanitarian agency working conditions.
- Humanitarian assistance continues to save lives and therefore multilateral and bilateral humanitarian agencies should continue to supply much-needed assistance.
- Donor governments should build on the channels opened by humanitarian assistance to further develop policies of constructive engagement, confidence building, and the slow but essential formation of trust that is crucial for bringing human and international security to the Korean peninsula.
About the Report
This report examines the diversity of humanitarian agency responses to working in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK)—North Korea—and proposes a set of recommendations for agencies and governments.
Hazel Smith worked for the UN World Food Program in the DPRK from August 2000 to July 2001. Smith is currently a senior fellow in the Jennings Randolph Program for International Peace at the Institute. A much earlier version of this report was written for a workshop on "Minimum Conditions for Operating in the DPRK" organized by the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (CHD), Geneva, in December 2001. The views presented herein are the views of the author and not necessarily of CHD.
The information in this report comes from United Nations, governmental, and non-governmental organization (NGO) reports on humanitarian activity in the DPRK and the results of an e-mail and telephone survey of major humanitarian actors that have operated and continue to operate in the DPRK. The survey was carried out by the author in October and November 2001.
The views expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Institute of Peace, which does not advocate specific policies.