Religious and human rights leaders urge more relief for North Korea amid COVID-19

The National Council of Churches (USA) has joined with other humanitarian and human rights organizations in writing the US Congress to urge that obstacles keeping nongovernmental organizations from addressing the “devastating potential for COVID-19’s spread” within the nation of North Korea be removed.

“While official reports from North Korea claim there are no cases of COVID-19, the situation remains precarious,” reads the letter. “Roughly 100,000 cases have been confirmed in China and South Korea combined, and while North Korea has closed its borders, its proximity to these countries leaves it extremely vulnerable to an outbreak.”

Underlying vulnerabilities make this potential outbreak even more dangerous, the letter notes. “Prior to the country closing its borders to stymie the pandemic, the United Nations indicated that roughly 10.1 million people in North Korea are in urgent need of food assistance,” reads the text. “Additionally, 10.4 million are in need of nutritional support and better access to health care, clean water, and the sanitation and hygiene facilities necessary to prevent the spread of infectious diseases like COVID-19.”

Humanitarian aid has been further delayed by quarantines and border closings, the letter continues: “Given the nature of viral outbreaks, delays of COVID-19 response aid could jeopardize the lives of North Korean people and risk incubating a new epicenter of the disease.”

The US Congress is considering legislation that will address the Enhancing North Korea Humanitarian Assistance Act in the near future.