The World Food Program has called on South Korea to provide $60 million in aid for North Korea. The United Nations agency says the isolated state is facing its worst food shortage in a decade. Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
The South Korean Unification Ministry said Thursday it has received a formal request from the World Food Program to provide assistance to North Korea.
The agency is asking for dried milk, cooking oil, soybeans and corn to send to more than six million people affected by North Korea's worsening food shortage.
South Korea had been North Korea's biggest donor until conservative President Lee Myung-bak took office in February. His administration wanted to end the practices of two previous presidents conservatives accuse of unconditionally handing out aid to Pyongyang.
Erica Kang, spokeswoman for the group Good Friends, which aims to help North Koreans, says she hopes the WFP's request will pressure Mr. Lee to act fast.
"I think it is mandatory for the South Korean government to support the North Korean people and provide humanitarian assistance as soon as possible," she said.
But the WFP may have to wait for an answer.
South Korean officials say the government has yet to decide on its response. There could be considerable public opinion against sending aid.
Many South Koreans were shocked by the shooting death last month of a tourist at North Korea's Mount Kumgang resort. Pyongyang says the 53-year-old South Korean woman strayed into a restricted military zone, where guards shot her. The North Korean government has denied Seoul's request for a joint investigation.
Kang says that despite political tensions, South Koreans will want to help their neighbors.
"If the South Korean government is actually ethically and humanitarian conscious, they would need to provide humanitarian assistance wherever it is needed, not to wait for any sort of public opinion," Kang said.
Poor weather and economic mismanagement have caused food shortages in North Korea for more than a decade, and Pyongyang relies on international aid to help feed its people. However, aid agencies and some donor nations have complained that the Stalinist government does not allow them to monitor where aid goes and to ensure it reaches those most in need.
Seoul pledged to send thousands of tons of corn to North Korea earlier this year, but Pyongyang never accepted the offer.