North Korea sanctions may force NGOs to carry sacks of cash over the border

May 24, 2013
May 24, 2013

North Korea is on the back foot, but U.S. sanctions on Kim Jong-un’s tempestuous regime are having unintended consequences for aid agencies trying to feed the impoverished country.

In early May, the Bank of China closed North Korea’s Foreign Trade Bank account in response to U.S. sanctions accusing it of advancing the North’s nuclear ambitions. In response, European banks that used the Bank of China to route cash to North Korea have ceased all transfers to the country, leaving NGOs, UN agencies, embassies and many businesses in Pyongyang with few options to fund their activities other than carrying cash over the border, limited to a few thousand dollars per trip.

Sanctions “could eventually reduce our ability to carry out projects or even force a complete close down,” a director at the German aid group Welthungerhilfe told Reuters. “If all the agencies had to pull out, it would affect millions of people.”

Chinese food and fertilizer aid is still flowing into North Korea, and the US said in April it might also send help, but without an easy way to get cash to aid groups, feeding the North’s chronically hungry population is going to be even more difficult.

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