Hong Kong (AsiaNews/Eda) North Korea has "received aid for the past nine years," but now wants to "develop its own capacity" to replace "foreign emergency assistance", this according to Kathi Zellweger, director of international cooperation Caritas Hong Kong, who coordinates humanitarian assistance for the Catholic Church in North Korea.
"Despite difficult relations between the international community and North Korea," she said, "Caritas must find creative ways to stay in the country" because "our aid is essential to the survival of many children, women and elderly people".
Government officials support Caritas's action and would like to see its presence grow. "Our commitment is appreciated," Ms Zellweger said, "and trust in us is growing by the day despite a tendency among local authorities to hide social and economic problems and only show the best side to foreign travellers".
Food remains the major problem. Foreign aid has reduced the impact of famine, but malnutrition remains high. "Newly-emerging vulnerable groups tend to reside in urban or suburban areas," she said. "In general, 80 per cent of the family income goes for food. And the food basket remains unbalanced. The emphasis tends to be on cereals [with little] of availability of, and access to, proteins, fats and micronutrients."
Caritas is also helping to rebuild a 300 bed hospital in Ryongchong which should reopen in spring 2005. It is also helping orphans, especially the sick, undernourished and disabled, housed in orphanages on the country's eastern coastline.
For the annual program the amount it needs is 1.86 million (US$ 2.3 million) but so far only about 50 percent has been pledged or received.
In North Korea since the mid-90s, Caritas Hong was one of the first aid agencies allowed to operate in the country. Over the years it has provided a total sum of around 22 million (US$ 27 million) worth of aid.