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UN Aid to N. Korea Marked by UNDP's Absence, Ban's Shadow, Peninsular Politics

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, August 16 -- In the UN's response to floods in North Korea, there are two elephants in the room. The first is the allegations of corruption in the programs of the UN Development Program in North Korea, which resulted in UNDP closing its programs in the country earlier this year.

   Now, while UNDP is loudly contributing to emergency response to the earthquake in Peru, UNDP is nowhere to be seen in the UN system's response in North Korea.

   Inner City Press on Thursday asked Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson about the difference. Video here, from Minute 17. Michele Montas replied that the UN has "different structures in different countries." Yeah -- where UNDP leaves a country due to its own corruption, it is no longer part of the structure.

            The other elephant in the room is that Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is South Korean, and served as that country's Foreign Minister. In recent years, as a part of its Unification Ministry as well as through the World Health Organization and other UN agencies, South Korea has funnels millions of dollars of aid to North Korea. Mr. Ban met with North Korea's UN Ambassador Pak Gil Yan earlier this week, including a closed door meeting on which nothing has been said. 

            On Thursday, UN Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Margareta Wahlstrom told reporters that she would be meeting the next day with prospective donors to North Korea. Inner City Press asked if she anticipates South Korea participating. Video here, from Minute 20:15.

            "I expect South Korea with join," she said, saying she has reason to believe this will take place. So do we -- with Ban Ki-moon as UN Secretary-General, how would it look for South Korea to go around the UN and provide only its own aid to North Korea?

            Several reporters were skeptical of the data North Korea has provided, asking about its source. An Associated Press story reported flatly, "North Korea has a history of overstating the effects of disasters to get aid." Inner City Press asked if the UN will be using the so-called "Nationally Executed modality," i.e. simply handing money to the Kim Jong-il government. Ms. Wahlstrom said no, then mentioned joint programs with the North Korean ministries of health and education.  Video here, from Minute 13:49.

      What about access to all of the country? Inner City Press asked, noting that UNICEF had told it of geographies it has not been allowed to visit.

Unicef has more recently told Inner City Press that "as part of our emergency preparedness, UNICEF has pre-positioned the following supplies in government warehouses:

- 100 Essential Medicine kits.  Each kit contains essential medicine for a population of 4,000 for a period of three months;

- 500 UNICEF family water kits containing jerry cans, water purification tablets and soap for 5,000 families for one month; and

- 20 school-in-a-box kits.

            Access is always being discussed, Ms. Wahlstrom said, adding that she assumes the UN will have access.

            "How will we know?"

            Ms. Wahlstrom said that it will be contained in agreements, that presumably will be made public. We'll see.

* * *

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund, while UNDP won't answerVideo Analysis here

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