Would You Rather They Starve?

Over on her Pajamas Media outlet Claudia Rosett sets her sites on Unicef. The offense? Having the temerity to warn about a potential food shortage in North Korea thusly: “A potential food crisis faces the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, with serious flooding last year leading to a possible shortfall of 1 million to tons of grain, a fifth of total food requirement for 2007…”

According to Rosett, Unicef is worthy of our scorn because the children’s aid organization should have blamed the government of Kim Jong Il for the shortage instead. She may have a point. Except for the fact that the very next paragraph of the UN News Center report to which she refers, says: “Meanwhile, far less food is coming into the country because of the Government’s decision not to accept humanitarian aid, Unicef country representative Gopalan Balagopal said on a recent visit to his agency’s headquarters in New York.” (emphasis mine.) Rosett seems to have artfully excluded this point.

Of course, anyone with even a basic understanding of North Korea would understand the underlying reason behind the dire humanitarian situation. That said, it is important to note that Unicef, like most humanitarian organizations, serve in countries at the pleasure of the host government. Humanitarian aid is based on the principle that people need not starve to death or lack basic medical care just because they are citizens of an odious regime. Humanitarian organizations are therefore loathe to jeopardize their access to vulnerable populations by condemning host governments. So when Rosett beseeches Unicef to say, instead, that North Korea “faces potential food crisis due to murderous, wasteful, degrading, abusive tyranny of Kim Jong Il’s regime,” she is basically asking Unicef to sign its own eviction notice, North Korea’s starving children be damned.