05/25/2004, 00.00
North Korea - DOSSIER
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Hong Kong charitable group assists poor and starving

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) –About 2.3 million dollars in aid are expected to provided by the Caritas-Hong Kong as part of its 2004-05 relief plan destined to the weakest members of the North Korean population.

According to Kathi Zellweger, director of the organization's international cooperation department, the Hong Kong charitable entity was the first humanitarian aid organization to enter North Korea (in 1995).

Zellweger, who visits North Korea 5-6 times a year, says that there are signs of economic progress and change in the country. Yet, Zellweger claims that after many years of propaganda and little contact with the rest of the world such progress will be slow and filled with contradictions.

"Earning money has become a common topic of conversation, especially among Pyongyang's youth," she said. "(However) many have trouble keeping up with the changing times in their country. And the gap between those who have (money and opportunity) and those who don't is on the rise."

The most vulnerable members of society (children, pregnant women, elderly, sick and handicapped) and the country's poor east coast populations will receive priority for the aid.

Caritas-Hong Kong will collaborate with the World Food Program when supplying food and provisions to the 4 provinces of Kangwon, Northern and Southern Hamgyong and Ryanggang where 500,000 children are living in shelters and orphanages and where 100,000 poor women are either pregnant or breastfeeding.

To ensure a healthy and balanced diet, highly nutritional foodstuffs will be supplied, such as cooking oil, sugar as well canned meat and fish.

The Hong Kong agency will work together with the World Health Organization and North Korean Ministry of Health to care for numerous patients having serious respiratory and gastro-intestinal infections. It will also supply some hospitals with medicine, equipment and items related to infrastructure in addition to providing training to medical personnel.

In terms of farming and foods safety, Caritas-Hong Kong will collaborate with government ministries and UN Development Program officials to give support to individual agricultural cooperatives. The organization will also provide help to 8000 children living in 40 private and state institutions and some 5000 elderly in 24 different rest homes.  (MR)

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