The Internet Campaign to Help North Korean Flood Victims


No one doubts any longer the seriousness of the food problem in North Korea. There is mounting evidence that a slow famine has begun. People have started to die from the lack of food, but more seriously, children have stopped growing and even if food arrives later, there is a point of no return. We may live to see a whole generation of stunted, sickly Koreans, years after the current political situation may have changed. They will ask and our children will ask us--as young Swiss are asking their parents today about their acqiescence toward the Nazis during the Holocaust-- how could you let these people go hungry?

The United States has already begun to ship emergency food to North Korea, aside from political considerations, because it has long been an American tradition to help those in distress, particularly innocent civilians, even if they are not our friends. It happened in Ethiopia and at the height of the Cold War, in Russia. Today the people whose lives were saved, will never forget the magnanimity of those actions. Such a tradition builds up the image of any country which practices humanitarianism, while restraint toward helping those in need contributes to making it an international outcast, which Japan may be on the verge of becoming.

South Korea has recently shifted its position and is now aiming to provide large quantities of food to the North if the delivery and marking problems can be agreed on. The European Union is also launching a food aid program worth 46.3 million European Currency Units (ECU). Only Japan still holds out due to the belief that Japanese citizens were abducted by North Korea some two decades ago. This is unproven and even if true, unrelated to feeding starving children and other civilians who have no knowledge or say in such matters. It is akin to not wanting to help the Jews in concentration camps because those camps were inside Nazi Germany.

As governments quibble over political issues and delivery arrangements I suggest the following proposals which the private sector can undertake to avert a serious famine which may have serious consequences for all of us:

1. I would like to propose the Japanese government permit NGOs (volunteer non-profit organizations) to purchase at the international price (of around $250 per metric ton) some of the 3 to 4 million tons of surplus rice now being stored which the Japanese people will never be able to consume. Such rice, starting perhaps with the stored foreign (Thai, etc.) rice that no one consumes, should be sold up to a determined set limit, to NGOs who wish to purchase and then donate it to any country in the world where there is a shortage of food. In order to qualify for such purchases, the NGOs would have to provide a letter from an authorized agency of the recipient government stating such rice would be imported as a donation (no commercial purpose) and would be donated to people who are short of food. The foreign government would also have to permit monitoring of such food donations by the NGO if the NGO requests it or provide other evidence of the distribution. Finally the NGO would have to export such rice and be responsible for the cost of transportation of it from the warehouse in Japan to the foreign destination.

2. I would further like to suggest that a fund be created, or supplies be provided, to import fuel into North Korea to assist in the delivery of food to remote areas where deliveries have been severely cut because of the lack of fuel in the country. The best way to achieve this, is to also bring convoys of trucks in through the Dandong-Sinuiju frontier. These would be loaned to the North Koreans to assist in the delivery of food which arrives at several ports. These trucks would be loaned for one year and fuel would be allocated for the specific purpose of delivering rice with these trucks to remote areas now receiving insuffient food and drugs. The North Koreans would provide detailed plans of the delivery locations, amounts to be allocated, dates, and a team of observers from international organizations would be allowed to be based in Pyongyang to spot check such deliveries. The condition of establishing this project would be to use these trucks and the donated fuel for the delivery of food to areas which so far have been unable to receive proper supplies due to their remoteness and difficulty in making deliveries. If any organization, consortium of oil companies, or government is ready to embark on such a project, I am willing to help in bringing it to the attention and gain the approval of the proper authorities in North Korea and negotiate its realization.

3. I further propose the mobilization of 50 to 100 Kubota-type bulldozers to clean the sand off the rice fields in the Sinuiju area. After the 1995 floods, sand poured in from the Yalu River and destroyed all the rice fields in the region. Right now farmers are trying to remove the sand manually which is a near-impossible feat; it would take perhaps 30 years to realize it. A large number of bulldozers could achieve it in a few months. Such bulldozers could be brought in through China, across the Yalu River and would be a dramatic, permanently remembered humanitarian effort, like the Berlin airlift. Again, if necessary, I believe I could help realize this if the donors, such as Kubota, would be interested in pursuing it.

4. A dramatic people-to-people effort might be galvanized to organize trains full of donations from Europe. The appeal would be for donations of medicine, medical equipment, farm equipment and food. Governmental organizations, the private sector and public in different European cities would be enlisted through media announcements to bring donations to central railway stations where they would be loaded on to freight cars that would leave for Pyongyang, North Korea through Paris (as the central collection point) where such freight cars would be consolidated and then move to Moscow for the eight-day journey to Shenyang, China, couple on to the Beijing-Pyongyang express and move on toward Dandong on the Chinese side, crossing the Yalu river into Sinuiju and continue on to Pyongyang. The cost of the train ride might be subsidized partially by international railway firms, the sale of special stamps issued by several countries, part of whose proceeds would go toward this campaign--with special First day covers or postmarks from cities where the train passes-- some charity shows or a donation from a firm like Benetton which could then paint the freight cars with its colors as it travels on its journey for two weeks from Paris to Pyongyang. The Oriental Express might also add on a few deluxe cars for the journey of a lifetime, culminating in a rare tour of North Korea's beauty spots (Mt. Kumgang and Paekdu) all for a good cause.

5. Millions of overseas Koreans hail from North Korea and many still have relatives there. They are tied nostalgically to their native towns. They could "adopt" and target their native areas, designating them as locations where their donations should be provided. Committees could be established abroad to collect donations for specific cities and areas. If the donation is large enough, say 1,000 tons of rice or maize, or more, the North Korean authorities might likely accept that one representative from overseas be invited to monitor the distribution. Again, I would be willing to establish and liaise such a program if the donors come forward.

Bernard Krisher

May 28, 1997

Bernard Krisher

4-1-7-605 Hiroo

Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, Japan (150)

Tel: +81-3-3486-4337 Fax: +81-3-3486-6789 Mobile: +81-30-08-88493 (In Tokyo) 030-08-88493 Internet:

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