(ATTN: CHANGES paras 3, 5 with ministry's clarification)
SEOUL, May 23 (Yonhap) -- South Korea has launched discussions with international aid agencies on how to spend its recently promised donation aimed at helping North Korean people in need, a unification ministry official said Thursday.
Last week, Seoul pledged to donate US$8 million to the World Food Programme and UNICEF to support their projects aimed at helping pregnant women and kids suffering malnutrition and health problems in the impoverished state.
"We are currently discussing the $8 million donation plan with the international agencies," a ministry official told reporters on condition of anonymity.
"Considering the urgency of the matter, we have said that the (assistance) plans should be executed at an early date. The government, for its part, maintains the stance that relevant procedures should be carried out as soon as possible," he added.
Currently, the ministry and the aid agencies are discussing details of the draft proposals that the agencies recently submitted for their projects in North Korea, a source said.
South Korea unveiled a similar donation plan in late 2017, but its implementation was repeatedly delayed before the plan was scrapped amid nuclear and missile tensions. At the time, the international agencies considered providing biscuits and vaccines for pregnant women and kids in the North.
The ministry official did not specify what items the international agencies want to send to North Korea this time but said that rice is not on the list.
Besides the donation plan, Seoul is currently drawing up plans to provide humanitarian food assistance to North Korea as millions of people there are reportedly facing aggravating food shortages caused by global sanctions and unfavorable weather conditions.
The WFP and the Food and Agriculture Organization recently reported based on their visit to North Korea that the country's crop output last year hit the lowest level since 2008, adding that an estimated 10 million people, or about 40 percent of its population, are in urgent need of food.
They also projected that the food situation in North Korea could deteriorate during the "lean season from May to September, if no proper and urgent humanitarian actions are taken."
On Tuesday, Unification Minister Kim Yeon-chul emphasized that humanitarian assistance should be separated from politics and other issues, citing a famous quote by former U.S. President Ronald Reagan that "a hungry child knows no politics."
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