MSF calls on donors to review their aid policy towards DPRK

Urgent needs in North Korea but MSF forced to pull out

Hong Kong The international medical relief agency Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) today announced that it has been forced to pull out of North Korea (DPRK) this week, despite urgent medical and nutritional needs throughout the country. MSF was the largest medical organisation working in North Korea and had tried to negotiate continue to work in North Korea, to have free access, to assess the needs, to bring humanitarian assistance to those most in need and to monitor its aid. The government, on the other hand, refuses to acknowledge that there is still an emergency and only wants structural support to rebuild the national pharmaceutical industry.

"We are sorry to be forced to pull out when there are serious medical, nutritional and sanitation problems which need to be addressed" said Dr Eric Goemaere, Director General of MSF. "The new policy of 'normalisation' has nothing to do with the reality of life in North Korea and will cost the lives of thousands. What these people urgently need is more effective accountable humanitarian assistance while structural solutions are found to the underlying crisis" he added.

Since early June, there has been a clear high level policy change to further restrict and limit effective humanitarian aid, which makes it impossible to deliver aid in a principled and accountable manner. MSF is today calling on all donor governments to review their aid policies towards DPRK to demand that it is more accountable and that the North Korean government ensures that humanitarian agencies can freely and impartially assess needs, deliver aid, have direct access to the population and assess the effectiveness of their programs.

"There are serious risks of outbreaks of diseases and death from terrible health and nutritional conditions, but there is a problem with the way needs and solutions are prioritised," said MSF's field doctor Dr Dominique Lafontaine. "While there is an urgent need to restructure the water and sanitation system, the government responds with mass vaccination campaigns against cholera and while there are urgent day to day medical and nutritional needs, the government refuses to allow humanitarian agencies to assist and only focuses on rebuilding the pharmaceutical industry."

MSF is convinced there are serious medical and humanitarian needs in DPRK which need to be addressed, but adheres to the international humanitarian principles of impartiality and of freedom to assess needs, to assist the most vulnerable, and to assess the effectiveness of that assistance.

Dr Eric Goemaere said: "It is not easy as doctors to pull-out when so many people have died and when the health and lives of so many people are still in danger. But in the end, humanitarian assistance can only help those who need it when it is impartial and accountable. This is not the case in North Korea." He concluded: "Now it is time for the North Korean government to take responsible for the health of its people and to allow direct humanitarian assistance. It is time for the donor governments to ensure that the humanitarian aid that they fund aid is implemented in a principled and effective manner".

The last of the international MSF teams will leave North Korea tomorrow morning, Thursday, 1 October, 1998, after working continuously for 16 months running drug distribution programs, training programs and supporting therapeutic feeding centres and health structures.