Soh Jaipil Circle: “Providing Humanitarian Aid in North Korea and Other Authoritarian Settings.”

GWIKS hosted a Lecture Series on November 29th, 2018 with Christy Gavitt, a global health consultant, on “Providing Humanitarian Aid in North Korea and Other Authoritarian Settings.” Christy Gavitt had worked for Peace Corps, Private Voluntary Organization Consortium for North Korea (PVOC), and had visited both North and South Korea multiple times throughout her career. Moderated by Professor Gregg Brazinsky, Christy Gavitt shared with the audience her knowledge about the obstacles in making sure the humanitarian aid reaches those in need.

As a solution to tackle the obstacles previously mentioned, Gavitt suggested that aid organizations physically get in contact with the subjects of aid and get in-depth experience of the country. During 1998 and 1999, Gavitt had visited North Korea on a humanitarian aid project organized by five U.S. private non-profit relief and development organizations. The objective of the project was to support agricultural rehabilitation & reconstruction via food-for-work repairs of flood-damaged river and reservoir embankments in five provinces of North Korea.

Unemployed rural/peri-urban adult industrial/factory workers in four provinces received tasks to repair embankments in exchange of U.S. maize. Gavitt and her team visited the sites, monitored the workers, and evaluated the process and quality of the project. During her observation, she had discovered that there are far more workers than registered, small monitoring staff, and rigid restrictions on site visiting.

Gavitt then proceeded to discuss the famine crisis in North Korea. She explained that some of the causes of the longstanding famine are: lack of fuel to run equipment, lift irrigation systems, and factories, as well as decreased subsidies from China and Russia, on top of natural calamities. The harsh situation forced people of Pyongyang to leave for rural areas to grow their own food and large percentage the population to survive on mixture of amaranth plant, maize powder, grasses and herbs. Gavitt points out the consequential malnutrition and high mortality rates. The greatest challenge is that the North Korean government wants as little foreign involvement as possible and places stringent control on outsiders. This policy had caused some NGOs to pull out from North Korea because they felt that there were too much control over their movements and freedom. The NGOs that did remain focused on technically-oriented projects, limited media, and had built favorable relationship with the central and local authorities. Gavitt concluded the lecture by highlighting the significance of physical presence in authoritarian regions and building positive relationships.

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