Tag Archives: Irish Aid

Ireland’s Response to the Syrian Humanitarian Crisis

In the face of a humanitarian disaster, its sheer scale can inhibit compassion: human psychology is such that we can more readily appreciate the loss of a single life than that of many.  Stalin was on to something when he reputedly said that the loss of one life is a tragedy, the loss of a million is a statistic.  He would know.  Keeping humanitarian disasters front and centre of international and personal attention is vital to maintaining an effective response.

The humanitarian disaster in Syria is all the greater a tragedy because it is man-made, because unlike a natural disaster it is apparently relentless and unrelenting.  We all fervently hope that the talks in Geneva in January can bring a halt to hostilities.  If so, at least humanitarian access can begin in earnest.  Even then, the consequences of the conflict will be with us for many years.  Along with its EU partners, the UN and a range of NGOs and Red Cross organisations, Ireland continues to assist in addressing this humanitarian disaster.

Bearing in mind that each statistic is one life ended, displaced, threatened, bereaved or impoverished, let’s look at the big picture.

Out of a population of 22 million, the death toll is approaching 120,000 people. More than 30% are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance and an estimated 4.25 million people are displaced inside Syria, including 235,000 Palestinian refugees.   Over 2.5 million people inside Syria have not been reached with any assistance for up to a year. Almost 2.3 million refugees are sheltering in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Egypt and elsewhere in North Africa.

The revised UN response plan calls for $5.2 billion dollars for operations in 2013, the largest humanitarian appeal in the UN’s history.  About 60% is funded.

Ireland announced last October that it was providing an additional €3 million, bringing our total contribution to €14.011 million, of which €11.361 million in 2013. Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mr. Joe Costello T.D., made this announcement during his visit to Lebanon.  Such visits – like his earlier visit to camps in Jordan and that of Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs & Trade, Eamonn Gilmore T.D. to Nizip refugee camp in Southern Turkey last April – are important for understanding the nature of the problem, for bringing attention to them and for providing Government Ministers and officials with the information and insights to further discussions with partners in the EU and UN.

With this additional contribution, Ireland’s pledge of €4.7 million made at the High Level Donor Pledging Conference for Syria in Kuwait City last January has been exceeded by almost €6.5m to date.

In terms of the delivery of this assistance, Irish Aid has a tremendous depth of experience, whether it is in the rapid delivery of material aid from our prepositioned stocks or funding a range of partners with whom we have close working relations.  It’s not just signing cheques: it is about Irish Aid’s years of experience ensuring appropriate, needs-based assistance and effective delivery.

However, expertise aside, it is money that makes humanitarian responses happen.  Some €1.15 million has been channelled through Irish NGOs Goal and Concern, in support of their operations.  €500,000 was allocated to Oxfam in support of their programmes in Jordan and Lebanon. These programmes focus on emergency food and non-food items, sanitation, suppression of water born diseases and curative health care.

Our aid included €750,000 worth of supplies of non-food items (shelter, blankets, water kits) from our emergency relief stocks held in Dubai, through our Rapid Response Initiative: 45 tonnes of Irish Aid emergency supplies were delivered to UNRWA to the value of €211,000.

Ireland has been a strong supporter of the UN’s Syrian humanitarian response too: €3.45m to the UNHCR; €1.7m to the World Food Programme: €300,000 to the World Health Organisation: €1.2m to UNWRA; €1m to UNICEF and €1.75m to OCHA’s Emergency Response Fund. €100,000 was donated to the International Rescue Committee.

Irish Aid funding of course comes from the Irish taxpayer and it is a great point of pride for all of us representing Ireland abroad that Irish public support for humanitarian relief remains consistently strong, even as we meet our own economic and financial challenges.

The numbing scale of statistics can hide the human tragedy in any disaster, natural or man-made.  In the Middle East, there is an additional barrier.  In this region, considerations of the turmoil and conflict often focus on the complicated and shifting matrix of geopolitical interests.  As the cross-roads of human activity and movement in and between Europe, Asia and Africa, thus it has always been.  It is a testament to the relief organisations, to their personnel on the ground, often risking life and limb, and to their donors, whether large or small, that they see past these considerations and look to relieve the human suffering that comes from the clash of interests and ideology.

Humanitarian responses can only do so much to relieve the suffering which is the symptom of underlying conflict.  It’s up the peace makers to look past the symptoms and get to the root of the problem.  There are enough natural disasters to deal with without man adding to them.  We can only hope that the leaders in the Syrian conflict say enough is enough and that some form of a deal is hammered out in Geneva.

Best wishes,


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A Visit to the DPRK

Ireland established diplomatic relations with North Korea in January 2004 during the rapprochement between the RoK and DPRK under the Sunshine Policy.  Ireland’s main engagement with the DPRK is the provision of funding by Irish Aid: reviewing the programmes run by the World Food Programme and Irish NGO Concern there forms a key part of visits by the Embassy.  After meetings with DPRK officials, we have a chance to travel outside of Pyongyang.  Getting to Pyongyang is not easy: diplomats cannot cross the border at the DMZ so we have to fly to Beijing and then catch a plane to Pyongyang.  Support by Irish Aid continues this year (2013) with a direct contribution to the WFP of €250,000, in addition to funding to Concern and to Emergency Funds like the UN’s CERF which the WFP accesses.

Ambassador’s Message – DPRK Visit

25 May 2012

I thought you might be interested in my visit last week to the DPRK to which I am accredited as Ambassador.  My wife Mary accompanied me.   Pyongyang, the capital and showcase city, looked well in the May sunshine, manicured and spruced up with particular attention because of the 15th April centennial celebration of the birth of Kim Il-sung.  There were plenty of cars in evidence, a bustle about the streets adjacent to our hotel, mobile phones in use and fashionable accessories to be seen.

 We were particularly interested to get outside the city to see the countryside immediately to the north and to the south of the capital and we able to do so thanks to the World Food Programme (WFP) and our own NGO, Concern, which is operating EU programmes there.


To reach the WFP project, we drove north from Pyongyang to Phyongsong city.  The fields were busy with people actively planting rice or tilling fields.  Despite intensive cultivation and the hard work of the people, however, the food gap remains around one million metric tons of cereals each year.

The WFP programme in Phyongsong city, the capital of South Pyongan Province (pop. 4 million) centers on creating a food mixture rich in essential micronutrients and proteins.  It targets the most vulnerable and is distributed to orphanages (baby homes, child centers, boarding schools), hospitals, nurseries, kindergartens.  The WFP operates in 12 of the 21 counties in South Pyongan Province (and some 114 countries overall in the DPRK).  Between April 2011 and May of this year, the WFP provided 1,531 metric tons of food aid to 43,904 beneficiaries in Phyongsong city, mainly to nurseries, pregnant/lactating mothers, kindergartens and primary schools.  Its milk, cereal, corn, soy and rice blends help prevent permanent physical and intellectual damage due to chronic malnutrition (the stunting rate is about 32% nationally).

Because of the relatively better harvest in 2011, the current Emergency Programme will probably be replaced by a Protracted Relief and Recovery Operation in July 2012, with somewhat reduced coverage from 3.5 million vulnerable recipients to in the region of 2.5 million people.

The WFP expressed its appreciation for Ireland’s contribution last year to its programme in the DPRK of $3.6m.  This included a direct contribution of $356,125 by Irish Aid that was used to procure 770 metric tons of wheat.  The WFP DPRK programme also received multilateral funding of $3,252,800 from Ireland that was used to purchase vegetable oil, sugar and dried skimmed milk, key ingredients in the blended foods.

 Our first stop was Phyongsong Paediatric Hospital.  Young patients there were being treated for water-borne gastric problems which are prevalent (the World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF, de-worms all the children twice a year in the 118 counties they cover).  International agencies, notably the WHO and UNICEF, provide medicines for about 10m of the total population of 24m. 

 Our next stop was at an orphanage for toddlers, ranked along two long balconies in the courtyard wearing identical pink pyjamas and waving excitedly as we arrived (shouting the Korean equivalent of Daddy! Daddy!)  Joyful and curious, they were particularly excited to be shown their photos on our camera’s LCD screen.  They receive daily the enriched WFP food that ensures essential nutrients for the crucial first years of life.

Our final stop was at the Cereal Milk factory where WFP supplies are mixed and bagged for distribution in an operation that was clean, busy and currently well stocked.

The WFP is confident that monitoring arrangements are effective. The official with us said that they had come not encountered examples of diversion and believe that the system operates with admirable integrity. UN officials and NGO regularly made the point to us that the DPRK operates extremely efficiently administratively, with high levels of commitment to tasks at hand, done with honesty and lack of theft.


Where the WFP (and WHO and UNICEF) provide emergency and relief programmes, the EU focus since 2006 is on addressing the structural issues causing the food gap under its Food Security Thematic Programme, specifically its “Linking Relief, Rehabilitation and Development”.  The DPRK budget for 2011-2013 is €20m.  The Irish NGO Concern manages integrated food and sustainable agricultural programmes, irrigation infrastructure projects, crop rotations, soil erosion mitigation techniques on sloping agriculture, and green house horticulture for winter production. 

Accompanied by Concern staff including an Irish national, we travelled through the traditional breadbasket south of Pyongyang to Singye.  Richly coloured red clays, verdant hills and clear blue skies combined to produce a beautiful landscape, dotted with small hamlets untouched, it seemed, by time.  Timeless too was the sight of plentiful colourfully dressed workers in the fields, carts drawn by cattle and curious, watchful locals. 

Concern operates the EU programme in Singye and associated projects in farms in and around the District.  It is an integrated operation designed to provide locally manufactured nutritious food for children and effective water and sanitation systems to end the scourge of water-borne diseases.  Pasteurized soymilk, tofu and protein rich maze noodles are produced using Chinese machinery in an operation run by locals under the leadership of the redoubtable Deputy Chairman of the District Committee, and her elderly though indomitable assistant, the kind of strong Korean women we are all familiar with down in the South.

We visited a cooperative farm, located off-road and across a broad river, that has a goat herd of some 700 whose milk is pasteurised for distribution or made into yoghurt.  Cellars are in construction to store cheese.  The farm manager is pioneering and open to new ideas, we were told.  There is a major push on by the international agencies to promote conservation agriculture, an approach that avoids ploughing altogether and thereby preserving nutrients, limiting erosion and improving yields.  A field at this farm is the first experiment with this new technique.  (Brazil is the leader in conservation agriculture and the exporter of the best planting devices.)  If successful, it will relieve rural populations of the time and energy consumed ploughing.

Our Irish national guide is coming to the end of his five-year stint in the DPRK.  He is resolutely optimistic in character and paid tribute to the ordinary Koreans he worked with as extremely kind, hospitable, hardworking and honest.  Aside from those fond memories, he recalled the magnificent scenery amidst the spectacular mountains as one travelled north.

 It is a challenging working environment but the effectiveness of comprehensive national and local administration means that goals can be achieved in the DPRK that would simply be inconceivable in many other countries receiving international aid.  A WHO official told me, in astonishment, that the inoculation (using internationally donated supplies) of the whole population between the ages of 1 and 4 years of age was achieved in two weeks.  There is no doubt that the UN agencies, NGOs and EU Special Programmes are achieving their intended goals, and meeting real needs in terms of nutrition and health for vulnerable groups. 

Concern kindly hosted a small reception for us and we had the opportunity to meet a range of people working with UN agencies and NGOs in North Korea, as well as a number of diplomats.  I paid tribute to their work and the often trying conditions of life that they subject themselves to when working to alleviate suffering in the world.  I was proud to note that even though Ireland faced considerable economic and fiscal challenges, our Irish Aid programme continued to enjoy widespread and strong public support at home.  

Best wishes, 



Filed under Korea