As North Korean rocket launch nears, the hungry get hungrier
Child in a North Korean hospital visited last month by food aide group Mercy Corps. (photo courtesy: USNGOs)
April 12th, 2012
09:02 AM ET

As North Korean rocket launch nears, the hungry get hungrier


Washington (CNN) - David Austin is one of the few outsiders who has seen firsthand how people live in the North Korean countryside, and he describes a population "lethargic" from malnutrition.

Just two weeks ago, he visited an orphanage as part of his work as the North Korea program director for the relief organization Mercy Corps.

He said the last protein children had eaten was in January - eggs.

"That tells us not only are they not getting a balanced diet but in terms of the rations, they're getting only about 60% of what a child needs," he said.

Austin describes widespread severe malnourishment and "an entire generation" that is "stunted physically, developmentally because of chronic malnutrition."

According to Austin, in seven visits since 2007, he has been to dozens of orphanages and hospitals and more than 19 private homes.

He says he is troubled that the United States plans to call off a massive shipment of food aid as a result of the anticipated rocket launch by North Korea between now and Monday.

Pyongyang insists that the rocket is necessary to put a weather satellite in orbit, but Washington and Seoul consider it a ballistic missile test in disguise. Such launches by North Korea breach U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Under a recent food deal with the United States, North Korea agreed to refrain from long range missile launches and nuclear tests. In exchange, the United States would provide what Austin described as a year's worth of corn-soy porridge mixed with vegetable oil for children younger than 10 and pregnant women.

The food "wouldn't taste delicious but it saves lives," Austin said, noting that it would have helped 2.4 million people.

At the White House, President Barack Obama's aides suggest their hands are tied after Pyongyang announced the launch just weeks after the food deal was agreed.

The North Koreans' "blatant disregard for their commitments makes it impossible for the United States to provide the nutritional assistance that it had hoped to provide for the North Korean people," said Jay Carney, the White House press secretary.

Some observers have doubts about the White House's approach.

"I have real questions about whether we should have linked humanitarian food assistance to the nuclear missile program in the first place," said Mike Green, who was senior director for Asian affairs at the National Security Council during the Bush administration. "It is not the fault of the average North Korean who needs the food, who is at starvation level, that the regime is developing nuclear missiles."

He said the threatened missile launch was a "provocation that should have been predictable."

But Green acknowledged that if the North Koreans flaunt the deal, sending the food "would be a political liability for the administration at home, and it would look weak internationally."

Austin of Mercy Corps was careful not to criticize the Obama administration. But he did say the administration had previously made it clear it would send food to North Korea if there was a verified need for that aid.

"We know there is a need and we know we can met the need. As a humanitarian organization we are saying there is an opportunity to do that," Austin said. "I don't want to assign blame. But I'm saying there is an opportunity to engage positively and constructively with a group of people the White House describes as innocent and starving, and we can do that."

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soundoff (22 Responses)
  1. jerry

    gosh and they didn't stop because clinton threatened them? That probably pushed them into would me, that old witch.

    April 12, 2012 at 10:28 am |
    • Steveo


      In fairness, Several administrations have failed to make progress concerning North Korea. The UN has failed. We have tried diplomacy, we have tried food aid! NK just doesn't listen! Just can't lay full blame on the Obama administration when Bush and Clinton did not make any progress either! Like I said, NK does listen!

      April 12, 2012 at 11:14 am |
      • Steveo

        Make that **NK does NOT listen**

        April 12, 2012 at 1:47 pm |
      • rightytighty

        In fairness, the Bush administration didn't play this game with NK as did Clinton, and now Obama.
        And in fairness, David Austin obviously wasn't in NK long enough to see the food we did send end up in the stomachs of its military families and communist appeasers.

        April 12, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
      • Steveo


        My point is no matter the administration, nothing with NK has changed. Their Nuke program was in full swing whether Clinton, Bush or Obama was in the White House! That is my point! As I stated in another article, it is seriously doubtful, food and other aid reached the poor, needy and hungry. You cannot honesty state this is the fault of any administration to include Obama's!

        April 12, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
      • rightytighty

        Your right Steveo,
        its not the presidents fault that the food, paid for by American tax dollars, ends up in the mouths of the NK military.
        But, it is the presidents fault for mindless believing the options NK continues to put on the table in bad failth.
        Bush didn't want to play the game Clinton started, the same one Obama has restarted..

        April 12, 2012 at 3:18 pm |
      • Steveo


        You said: But, it is the presidents fault for mindless believing the options NK continues to put on the table in bad failth.
        You know when NK made their latest "promise" to behave, in exhange for food and other aid, my first thoughts were: HERE WE GO AGAIN! We got suckered again! I agree with you there!

        April 12, 2012 at 3:24 pm |
      • jerry

        Well...if yopu want to give obama a pass on this mess...then what about eastern europe, Afganistan war, the middle east....much of it including Iran (his failure to act in the Green revolution)..Egypt and etc... just tell me what he has done to stabilize anything anywhere...Africa...etc... And just why are we losing at least one American in this war every week and there is no media reporting of see when we continue to get information that is left slanted, incomplete/twisted or none at all then how can we trust anything obama, clinton, geitner or any of them says or does....even the Russia mic gaff...this moron must go back to the chicago sewer he crawaled out of.

        April 12, 2012 at 7:34 pm |
      • Steveo


        Does he get all the blame? Come on man. It is not like NK just started a Nuke program yesterday! Currently the conversation is NK and not Europe! There is more than enough blame to go around , the dems, the GOP, the UN, NK, Russian, China! The list goes on and on. I didn't vote for him, but giving all the blame to Obama is dishonest!

        April 12, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
      • Steveo


        I am giving Obama a pass or am I sharing the blame?

        April 12, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
      • jean2009

        History doesn't happen that way you can't start with a date and end with another just to fit your view of history.

        We are now into dealing with the 3rd generation of the difficult Kim family. The appease and try to buy good behavior from North Korea goes back to its inception, and was very present in the dealings of the Reagan Administration with North Korea. Actually the Reagan 1982 attempt may be the first post Korean War effort to bribe the north with trade. Didn't work then doesn't work now.

        From the book-"Korean-American Relations 1866-1997" by Yur-Bok Lee, Wayne Patterson – pg 121

        The current situation is nothing new. This ping-pong has been going on since the end of the Korean War and has gone on throughout every administration since. The north did manage to achieve nuclear capability in 2006....Hello who was at the helm of the United States in 2006? Mull that one over for awhile.

        April 15, 2012 at 5:43 pm |
      • Renata

        Pennsylvania is more Middle America than Illinois? Is that your armeugnt?No, my armeugnt is that Barack Obama is not in tune with Middle America.Now who’s invoking strawmen. I was simply agreeing with the context of Obama’s thesis that embittered blue-collar voters in rural America cling to guns and faith during hard times, and are thus persuadable on such issues in the voting booth when Republicans are successful in exploiting it….which they were not in 2006.Then those voters have been going through hard times since before there was a United States of America. Obama is wrong, and so are you. Saying that the culture of Middle America is just something that embittered voters cling to in times of trouble is a statement that instantly pegs the speaker as someone with no clue about Middle America.South Dakota has the kind of business-humping environment you endorse, but outside of a few population centers, the rural regions of South Dakota continue to lose population at a rate considerably faster than anywhere in Pennsylvania. The shelled-out rural steel towns of western Pennsylvania are no more likely to experience an economic boom by putting their faith in big business doing what’s right than Mobridge or Winner, South Dakota, have benefitted from their state’s deregulatory and predatory business climate. And you know it. You and McCain are being just as dishonest as the anti-NAFTA demagogues if you’re gonna try to tell Johnstown, PA, that it’s on the road to comeback if only they did away with unions and trusted business.There's a region why North Carolina's Research Park is booming and other places are not. It's not that hard to figure out, if you make it difficult for businesses to open, they won't open and there won't be jobs. If you have high taxes, the people who make the jobs come will go elsewhere.Your policies have already been tried. That's why Michigan is the most economically depressed state in the Union, and places that are embracing pro-growth policies are where the jobs are. You can sit and petulantly accuse big business of being evil all you want—but then the places that aren't blinded by an ideology of envy will get the jobs.Quit being a fraud. On the very business and regulatory issues you’re discussing in this thread, Jim Webb is well to the left of Barack Obama. So is Sherrod Brown. So is Bob Casey. They are pro-gun rights, but otherwise endorse a hard-line Democratic orthodoxy that scares you the most….because you recognize that these Scots-Irish voters you disingenuously celebrate are happy customers of the Democratic party message so long as it’s cloaked in acceptance of gun rights and religion.Prove it. Down the line, Obama's positions are hard left. The Democrats won in 2006 for two reasons: they pretended they were centrists and the Republicans were clueless. None of the Democrats ran on a hard-left cultural platform. Certainly not Jim Webb, John Tester, or even Bob Casey. You can't, in any reasonable terms, say that a pro-life Democrat like Bob Casey is to the left of Barack Obama,. It simply isn't true.The guy just paid off his student loans like last year. He was raised by a single mother and worked his way through Yale and Harvard on his own merit, not because his daddy was a Texas oil baron. That profile hardly smacks of elitism. And much as you try to deflect it, this guy who “doesn’t understand Middle America” is a Senator in ILLINOIS who got elected with 70% of the vote in every nook and cranny of the state.Obama made over $200,000 every year for the past 8 years, and over a million in the past two. By your own standards, he's one of those rich plutocrats you constantly decry. He won an election in Illinois against a sacrificial lamb candidate after the real candidate dropped out.Trying to paint Barack Obama as a man of the people doesn't work. He is an academic liberal and part of a culture that is quite alien to the values of Middle America. All the desperate attempts to turn him into something he's not won't work—for all the spin, the American voter can smell a phony a mile away, and Barack Obama will lead the Democratic Party straight into electoral defeat.

        July 31, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
  2. teri

    Spent 533 million dollars but cant feed their own people not our problem

    April 12, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
  3. d

    I honestly pray that they dont go through with it. It is a shame that they care 0 about their people Especially the children starving. They call this Great Prez The food stamp President. Yea, what a horrible thing. A Leader that wants to make sure children of this Nation dont go hungary. The Gop is so out of touch with the workin folks & the poor it aint funny. Go REGAN RULE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    April 12, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
    • John

      d – the gop is out of touch, but you compare Obama to the leader of N. Korea to say Obama does better than him? Not very high standards.

      April 12, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
    • Steveo

      $35K a plate dinners? Yep that is so in touch with us working stiffs! Yo, d, when was the last time you attended one of those. I hope you took plently of pictures! I do agree with you about prayiing though! NK has never demonstrated care or concern for the powerless, poor and hungry! Carter tried, Clinton tired, Bush tried, Obama tried to no avail!

      April 12, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
    • rightytighty

      NK is a government controlled country..., much more like Obama's version of America than Romneys..

      April 12, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
  4. jerry

    how can you possibly believe any of this reporting? For all we know obama is looking for a way to twist this into an election campaign prize...OMG he knocked off Bin Ladin when Trump was on him on the birth cert thing against the wishes of all but one of his advisors (the idiot Pannetta).

    April 12, 2012 at 7:37 pm |
    • jean2009

      One American lost ever week....well Jerry we were losing a lot more than that each week under your George W. Bush,8599,1573262,00.html

      April 15, 2012 at 6:04 pm |
  5. jean2009

    I think Reagan referred to the technique as "the carrot and stick" approach. North Korean's version was "we eat the carrot and hit back with the stick".

    – James Baker Sec. State under George H. W. Bush.

    April 15, 2012 at 5:57 pm |
  6. Orphanages for Children

    Nice Blog.

    April 20, 2012 at 3:19 am |
  7. Greice

    Some nice research you're ofinfreg us here, Jaap. Thanks! I hope it inspires a lot of people to help in any way they can and to add their views on this topic in the comments

    July 30, 2012 at 2:04 pm |