The Internet Campaign to Help North Korean Flood Victims


FOCUS: Web Aid

  Asahi Evening News/Feb. 5, 1997

    Watching as the food shortage in the Democratic People's
  Republic of Korea (North Korea) grew steadily worse, journalist
* Bernard Krisher felt frustrated with the lack of response from
  the world's governments. So he decided to do something concrete:
  he started a project to provide food to the North Koreans
    "I want to show that you have to separate the politics from a
  situation in which people are in need," said Krisher, who has
  lived in Tokyo since 1962 and was Newsweek bureau chief for close
  to two decades. He said in spite of political differences between
  nations, the people who suffer from natural disasters and who
  need help are the same as us all.
    Krisher has become deeply involved in humanitarian projects in
  recent years. He set up a home page on the Internet in 1995 to
  emphasize the plight of North Koreans, whose harvests were hit
  hard by severe flooding that summer.
    Since then, he has made two trips to North Korea and plans to
  return again in March with rice, powdered milk and, hopefully, a
  vehicle that can be used as an ambulance or for other purposes to
  help rural residents in medical need.
    He is seeking to raise $100,000 (12 million yen) by the time
  he leaves for this trip to pay for the about 260 tons of rice he
  plans to provide in addition to other supplies. He is now looking
  for a cheap source of rice outside of Japan that can ship the
  foodstuffs directly to North Korea.
    Krisher said his project differs from other international aid
  organizations because he takes a hands-on approach.
    "Small as my project is, contributors can be sure that their
  donations go to where they are intended," he said.
    Krisher insisted on accompanying the truck caravans that
  transport the rice to the needy towns and villages in the
  floodstricken areas, despite resistance from North Korean
  officials. He has also photographed and videotaped his past
  distribution trips and put the visual evidence on his Internet
  home page to show contributors--and potential donators--that
  their money is used for its intended purpose.
    Recent reports by the United Nations World Food Program,
  headquartered in Rome, indicate that North Korea will need
  continuing outside food assistance this year because the area has
  undergone two successive years of flooding.
    A joint Food and Agriculture Organization and World Food
  Program mission to North Korea last November estimated that the
  Communist state would need 2.36 million metric tons of food
  imports in 1997 because of flooding and underlying agricultural
  production problems.
    The World Food Program report added that since North Korea has
  little foreign exchange and access to credit, large-scale
  international food assistance is vital in 1997 to meet even
  minimum nutritional requirements for the North Korea people.
    The International Federation of Red Crosses also reported last
  week that North Koreans were now down to a daily ration of rice
  of 100 grams, about one-fourth the minimum daily nutritional
    Krisher plans to make more trips to North Korea to bring food.
  In fact, he says, he may have to return sooner depending on what
  he finds on this upcoming trip.
    "If I see people starving, I will be motivated to take more
  action," he said. In a trip in March 1996, he visited several
  areas where he saw malnourished children, which convinced him to
  bring more powdered milk this year. The milk will be fed to
  children whose mothers were themselves malnourished while
    In the March trip Krisher also hopes to take along a Toyota
  all-purpose van. The van is in place of an ambulance that a group
  of Korean doctors living in the United States had wanted to
  donate to North Korea.
    The doctors learned about Krisher's project through his home
  page. They asked him to help them send the ambulance to North
  Korea because legal restrictions in the United States were making
  it difficult for them to do it themselves.
    Although Krisher is facing some bureaucratic difficulties in
  Japan in purchasing the van, he hopes to overcome those hurdles
  by March. He wants to fill the van with medical supplies as well.
    Few problems
    Despite North Korea's image as a rigidly controlled state,
  Krisher said, he has encountered few problems in bringing in
    "(The cooperation) was remarkable. They just seem to trust me
  because I have been there several times and I have never turned
  around and done something against them," Krisher said. He pays
  for his gasoline and other expenses while in North Korea so he is
  not a burden on his hosts.
    The people he has met in the North have also welcomed him, he
  said, and he finds North Koreans to be a warm people. Krisher
  attributes the hard-line image North Korea projects to the world
  to the Communist government's inability to communicate
  effectively--evidenced by the propaganda that comes out of
    While he has not encountered much interference within North
  Korea, Krisher said he has been disappointed in the lack of
  cooperation so far from the government in Seoul.
    As a prime example, he cites the legal restrictions in the
  Republic of Korea (South Korea) which prohibit citizens from
  assisting North Korea except through the South Korean Red Cross.
  He added that the South Korean Red Cross has provided assistance
  in the form of clothing--of which the North already has
  enough--instead of giving rice.
    Krisher said among the most courageous of the contributors to
  his project have been South Koreans who have risked legal
  persecution to donate to his cause.
    Although a large percentage of the donations are from
  Japanese, Krisher said the use of the home page to appeal for
  donations has led to contributions from people in the United
  States and Portugal among other countries.
    In late December, Pyongyang's apology for last year's invasion
  by a submarine into South Korean waters broke the ice for talks
  on international food aid. The possibility of government
  assistance from Japan and the United States has also increased.
    Krisher said he plans to continue with his project until
  international assistance grows large enough to meet the need in
  North Korea or until the harvests recover enough to enable the
  nation to feed its own people.
    Individuals interested in contributing to Krisher's appeal can
  send their donations via bank transfer to North Korean Flood
  Relief, account number 748849 (futsu yokin), Hiroo Garden Hills
  Branch, Sumitomo Bank. Access the home page at:

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