Thursday, May 19, 2011

Dizzying Ignorance, and Short Memories

I can honestly say that my recent interview in London with Lord David Alton (see here), much as I may disagree with some (though not all) of what he said, gave me a benchmark understanding of someone with a genuine intellectual and humanitarian interest in the welfare of the North Korean people.

He, as far as I could discern, read the recent WFP and NGO reports on the conditions in North Korea, listened to "our man in Pyongyang" and decided, not altogether unreasonably, that it painted a worrying picture, and has thereafter been acting with this fact in mind.

Whereas, there are some people who, motivations aside, deserve a kicking. Today's examples? Greta van Susteren and Bernd Goken of German NGO 'Cap Anamur'.

Let us begin with Van Susteren, who is guilty of, at best, transmitting some of the most absurd fearmongering I have ever come across on her recent week-long FOX News 'fact-finding' trip to North Korea.

Not only is her coverage, as noted by one close friend, "unwatchable" since "she can't even pronounce 'Taedong'", it is also dangerously and implausibly divorced from reality.

Here is her main point, one she was so keen to hammer home that she lost the run of herself completely and made three times, two of them in consecutive paragraphs;

This country is on the verge of a catastrophe. It is said by the world community beginning in June, they will run out of food and there will be a famine. The estimates of anywhere from one million to six million who will starve. This is a country of 26 million. One to six million may starve to death beginning in the month of June.

The problem that is bearing down on this country is the famine that is expected to start in June where there is a risk, at least an estimate by many in the world community that one to six million will starve to death because they've had such terrible crops and such a harsh winter in this country.

So this is greatly needed by this country, what is a longer term solution. The bigger problem is they run the risk, come June, enormous food shortage in this country. There could be one to six million people that begin to starve to death.

Elsewhere on her 'Gretawire' blog, there appears to be literally no end to the lengths she shows a willingness to go to in order to sow the seeds of a tearful tragedy, seeing herself as the modern day saviour of an entire people, no doubt, as she trumpets, 'Do you think this woman knows the food supply runs out in two weeks?' alongside a picture of a woman who, while no doubt living a life nobody would entirely wish upon her, is also clearly not a figure plucked at random from the huddled masses, either.

In the next, or was it last, I got thoroughly confused there were so many, pictorial classic she warns, 'Can you believe these pictures? So beautiful... but' as though if one were to come back in a fortnight there'd be nothing but the oxen for company.

However, while I don't actually expect better from FOX News, some organizations actually should know better, much better, and one among them is surely Cap Anamur, a German NGO with a long-standing record of helping North Korea. The group has, according to this VOA report, dispatched 200 tons of rice aid to Anju in South Pyongan Province and Haeju in South Hwanghae Province.

What bothers me is not the fact that this NGO has sent aid per se, since I can clearly see the benefit of well-targeted aid projects, and should remind you again at this point that there were a number of areas of agreement I shared with Lord Alton. No, what made me sigh in despair was this from head Bernd Goken;
The North Korean people like rice more than corn, so we decided to send rice.

Were it the case that the whole thing was just a happy matter of prefered menu choice, one wonders, would we even be in this mess? Where, I ask, is all that we have learned about aid diversion, aid going to the elite, being stored for next year, for a possible nuclear test, acting as balance of payments subsidy? Where, in short, is the sense in sending to North Korea the most diversion-prone aid there is?
The North Korean elite prefer wine and cheese to corn and baby formula, so we decided to send wine and cheese.

You see my point, right?

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