The North Korean famine of the mid-1990s stimulated an unprecedented appeal by the government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) for international humanitarian assistance. The international community answered this call, both through contributions by donor governments to the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and other international relief agencies, and through private donations from humanitarian NGOs invited to work in North Korea for the first time.
This posed challenging ethical and humanitarian dilemmas for foreign aid workers who responded to the crisis. It also yielded a paradox: Despite the antipathy of the North Korean system to outside religious influence, it is primarily American NGOs with financial backing from religious organizations that have maintained development and exchange programs with the DPRK.
While other NGO programs have largely dried up, the relationship between DPRK authorities and American religiously funded NGOs has continued despite recovery from the famine and the advent of an international diplomatic crisis surrounding North Korea’s nuclear weapons development.