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In North Korea, UNICEF Has Stopped Medical Aid to Two Provinces For Lack of Access

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

UNITED NATIONS, June 12 -- In the face of renewed calls for an expanded audit of UN agencies' operations in North Korea, UN Development Program Associate Administrator Ad Melkert on Wednesday told his Executive Board that UNDP "'had controls in place to determine that its funds were used for development purposes." This implies that UNDP was able to meaningfully visit the projects it funded.

            Ad Melkert also tried again to turn the spotlight on what he called a sister agency, the UN Children's Fund. Melkert's testimony provided these dollar figures for 2002-2006 in North Korea: UNDP, $13.2 million; UNOPS, $4.3 million; the UN Population Fund, $4.2 million; and UNICEF, $55.2 million.

            So among the questions that arises is whether UNICEF has had sufficient access to its projects in North Korea. Inner City Press posed this question to UNICEF a week ago, and is now happy to report that an answer has been received.

Inner City Press on June 5 asked: are there any provinces of DPR Korea where UNICEF does not / will  not provide services, or will provide only some of its services? If so, what are the provinces, when was the decision made and why?

UNICEF on June 13 answered: We have discontinued our support of supplying essential medicines to the two Northern provinces of North Hamgyong and Ryanggang in May 2007 because we were denied access to these provinces since the last mission to North Hamgyong in the third week of November.

            It's worth noting that Ryanggang was the location, in September 2004, of a explosion heard 'round the world, and mushroom cloud. Click here for more.  There's word of UN suspensions in a third province, on which we hope to have more.

  As another UN humanitarian has told Inner City Press on a not for attribution basis, the needs in North Korea have become beyond acute. But how can UN agencies provide aid without having any access to see where the aid is going?

In Ryanggang, working on the railroad (access for whom?)

            The leaked April 25 memo to Ban Ki-moon from the UN Department of Political Affairs states, among other things, that

"Access to vulnerable populations and the ability to monitor program implementation in the DPRK has always been problematic... Access was dramatically curtailed in 2006 as the operating agencies has access to only 29 of the 203 counties, as opposed to 160 in 2005."

            It is reported that Kim Jong Il must now be carried, even to get into a car. Some ask, when he expires, what comes next?

            If what they call a "bold switchover" occurred, the author of the 2007 book "The North Korean Economy," Nicholas Eberstadt, opines that "the South Korean public's disposition to supply North Korea with massive aid would likely be strong... South Korea's political leadership and voting public could easily approve an additional $2 billion a year for the DPRK, simply on the basis of the 'security switchover.'"  But until then? Developing...

    Again, because a number of Inner City Press' UN sources go out of their way to express commitment to serving the poor, and while it should be unnecessary, Inner City Press is compelled to conclude this installment in a necessarily-ongoing series by saluting the stated goals of the UN agencies and many of their staff. Keep those cards, letters and emails coming, and phone calls too, we apologize for any phone tag, but please continue trying, and keep the information flowing.

Feedback: Editorial [at]

UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540  Matthew.Lee [at]

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UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540