S. Korea exploring ways to help ease food shortage in N. Korea

SEOUL, Feb. 19 (Yonhap) — South Korea is exploring various ways to provide food and fertilizer to North Korea in humanitarian assistance as Pyongyang is believed to be faced with worsening food shortages, the unification ministry said Friday.

On Thursday, Unification Minister Lee In-young told lawmakers that the North appears to be faced with a food shortage of about 1.2 million to 1.3 million tons this year mainly due to damage from last year’s heavy downpours.

“Our position remains the same that humanitarian issues such as food shortages should be dealt with regardless of political and military situations,” Lee Jong-joo, the ministry’s spokesperson, told a regular press briefing.

“The overall humanitarian demand, such as rice and fertilizers, should be analyzed in a way that it could actually improve the quality of North Korean people’s livelihoods and in consideration of issues linked to coronavirus situations and the entry of materials (to the North), along with the consensus among our people,” the spokesperson added.

She, however, noted that the ministry has no specific plans at this moment on what, how much and when assistance will be provided to the North.

North Korea was hard hit by back-to-back typhoons and flooding last summer, which presumably devastated major farming areas of the country already reeling from difficulties in securing outside help and other farming materials due to virus-prompted border closures.

The North has repeatedly rejected offers for help from South Korea to ease its food paucity amid chilled inter-Korean relations. Leader Kim Jong-un has also urged his officials not to receive outside aid due to worries about the spread of the coronavirus into his country.