The plan to monitor the transport of relief supplies ended at the Yalu, the border river between China and North Korea. We assume that the container with the proven baby food has reached its goal, the area around Yonsa.
Unfortunately, we cannot witness the distribution: After quite some back and forth, we were not given an entry visa. The precise reasons probably have little to do with the current situation and are not clear to me. Therefore, I am somewhat disappointed. I would have liked to explain the correct use of the nutrition on-site: something the recipients always appreciated. I would have liked to tell you about it as well. Now it is up to GAiN Germany to hold negotiations determining if further relief good transports are worthwhile and possible in the future.
I am already in Beijing when I find out that I would not be granted entry. To make the most of the extra time I still travel east to the border: From a reconstructed watch tower close to the Chinese border city of Dandong you have a wonderful view into North Korea: Fields with untiring workers plan ting corn, a couple of oxen or cows pulling a plow, a chugging tractor and a couple of villages in the distance.
Despite the harsh rhetoric in the media, despite the missile tests, it is downright peaceful here, everybody is busy doing their work. In contrast, the Chinese fields spread out behind my back. Close to the city they are covered in plastic or completely covered by green houses. I bless both sides of the river in my mind, I wish the people peace and well-being, that their work would feed them and they would enjoy it.
On a short boat trip on the river I witness Chinese tourists and their reaction to the North Koreans we see on our way: Some of them wave and smile at them, others call out a provocative “Hello” and less friendly words to the opposite bank. I feel like I am in the zoo: Observing North Koreans. I notice that most Chinese hardly know anything about their neighbors. They glance over the border curiously – but seem to have no interest in more.
In late August the typhoon “Lionrock” arrived in the mountains of North Korea. It rained heavily for three days causing all streams to flood and destroy everything in the area. The flooding along the Tumen River, the river bordering China, washed away whole settlements.
North Korea mobilized thousands of soldiers to clear railroad tracks and streets. Together with international organizations they rebuilt houses for people that had lost their homes – all before the winter. 30‘000 residential buildings were destroyed, over 500 people were killed and about 600‘000 people were in need. 27‘000 hectares of land were flooded shortly before harvest. The people that lost their houses also lost their kitchen gardens – hunger will be a threat in the coming winter. The people in the whole country collected relief goods, gave away their kitchen utensils, and as much food as they were able.
Besides the North Korean Red Cross many international relief organizations as well as the UN reacted quickly. Emergency aid kits, building materials, food, and hygiene products were immediately sent to the affected areas. The government secured the monitoring and follow-up of the distributed goods. Many organizations were allowed to visit the affected areas.
Several organizations were able to relieve the immediate need with the materials that they had in stock. But the next spring and the next harvest is many months from now!
The North Korean embassy in Berne has asked us for help. In our proven cooperation with GAiN Germany we have sent a container of relief goods, consisting mainly of baby food, soap, and tea. Our container is a welcome contribution to existing help.
The affected areas are difficult to access: They are far from the sea and the port. Trucks must drive over many hills and mountains on natural all-weather roads. In China the roads to the border of North Korea are better developed. But certain laws and international sanctions do not allow relief goods coming from other countries to be transported through Chinese territory, although the sanctions expressly allow humanitarian aid. As a result of the sanctions, many countries and organizations are extremely careful in becoming involved in North Korea or with organizations that are active in North Korea.
On request of the North Korean embassy and in cooperation with GAiN Germany we have sent a container with relief goods.
In the meantime things have changed in North Korean agriculture: In the last two years the co-operative farms in Korea were given more responsibility and freedom in their planting decisions. This is a challenge, as so far it was the state that decided what would be cultivated where. In return, the produce was bought at the official state price.
Now the question is how to decide what to grow so that the produce can actually be sold with a profit.
The visit of the delegation of the Ministry of Agriculture dealt mainly with the topics concerning rural development but also operational planning.
In April a colourful mix of farmers, experts, sponsors, and deputies of the North Korean Embassy celebrated 20 years of successful collaboration between North Koreans and Swiss in the assembly room of the Reformed Church in Zweisimmen.
»Yun was just a good man. We could only communicate with a few words, but we got along with each other right from the beginning. He was interested in everything, took many notes and drew sketches. All of this in order to do things this way in North Korea, too,“ remembers farmer Walter Gobeli with enthusiasm. “When you meet him, please give him my kind regards!”
16 years ago, Walter Gobeli and his wife Erna were one of the courageous host families offering a North Korean agronomist practical training during the summer months.
After Yun’s departure trainees followed summer after summer, totalling almost one hundred. They wanted to transfer Swiss mountain farming knowledge to the mountainous areas of their country. Today cheese and yogurt are very popular in North Korea and are being produced in more than 300 small cheese dairies all over the country.
During the celebration Mr Ulrich Zeller, the mayor of Zweisimmen, as well as the Counsellor of the North Korean Embassy, praised this manifold and creative partnership. Host families told about their funniest but also most challenging experiences of two very different cultures sharing life.
Daniel gave some insight into life in North Korea today and Stefan and Anita Burckhardt shared the present key aspects of the project. Solemn alphorn tunes expressed what one cannot express in words: We want to be a blessing for the North Korean people and pray for their well-being.