November 24, 2010; Source: Reuters AlertNet | As of this writing, the situation between North Korea and South Korea—and the response of the U.S.—is unclear, after the North’s bombing of the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong. One thinks of the reclusive North Korea as having minimal foreign contact and no connection to U.S. or international charities, but that isn’t quite true. Some NGOs are providing aid in North Korea, but the prospects of their continuation might be at risk if tensions escalate. Samaritan’s Purse, the charity run by Rev. Billy Graham’s son, Franklin Graham, has been in North Korea for the past decade, but may find its work suspended if conditions worsen. The same applies to yet another faith-based NGO, World Vision International, which provides food aid and runs programs to help farmers increase production. Others in the nation include the American Friends Service Committee and MercyCorps. Although nominally committed to a philosophy of self-reliance called “juche,” the nation governed by Kim Jong-Il imports huge amounts of food in order to stave off malnutrition in the population, else North Korea incurs another bout of famine as it did in the 1990s when 1 million of its 22 million inhabitants died. Maybe the bombing was some sort of North Korean strategic move in advance of talks concerning the country’s nuclear programs, but it seems more stupid than strategic, especially with the announced deaths of two South Korean soldiers and two civilians. South Korea and the U.S., bound to defend South Korea by treaty, are considering standing up to the saber-rattling North Koreans, which could lead to additional military confrontations or worse. Whichever way it goes, the presence of World Vision, the AFDC, MercyCorps and others in North Korea reminds us that it will be poor people in North Korea’s farms and cities who will lose the most from escalating military tensions.—Rick Cohen
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