SEOUL, Dec. 6 (Yonhap/APP):South Korea will donate US$5 million to the World Health Organization (WHO) for a humanitarian assistance project in North Korea to increase access to medical treatment for women and children, the unification ministry said Friday.
The decision marks the first time for South Korea to make donations to WHO in five years. It also came as inter-Korean relations and cross-border exchanges have been stalled amid little progress in denuclearization talks between North Korea and the United States.
“WHO has expressed a desire to resume its medical support project for women and children, which was suspended in 2014, and has been in discussions with our government on relevant assistance plans,” the ministry said in a press release.
“The government decided to make the donations based on the determination that the project would help contribute to lowering the mortality rates of infants and their mothers,” it added.
The decision was made by a committee of government officials and civilian experts that is in charge of reviewing and approving inter-Korean projects. They have reviewed the government’s donation plan for a week.
South Korea had made donations to WHO until 2014, but they were suspended ever since due to chilled inter-Korean relations.
The Moon Jae-in government has maintained that politics should not play a role in dealing with humanitarian issues and has expressed hope that such support will boost the reconciliatory mood between the two Koreas.
In June, South Korea donated $8 million to the World Food Programme (WFP) and the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) for their assistance projects in the North.
Newborn babies and children in North Korea are reportedly facing severely poor health conditions and relatively high mortality rates.
According to a 2017 UNICEF report, 9 out of every 1,000 newborn babies died, with 44 percent of the deaths taking place within a week of their births.
The ministry handling inter-Korean affairs said that the WHO assistance in the North is a one-year project and the decision whether to extend it will be based on the results of its implementation.
The ministry added that WHO will take necessary steps to get sanctions waivers from the U.N. in carrying out the humanitarian project in North Korea.