History of Korea as a Foreign Aid Recipient

Korea International Cooperation Agency

It may be hard to imagine in 2018, but sixty years ago Korea was one of the poorest countries in the world to receive international assistance.

Korean War

About 800,000 South Koreans died or went missing during the Korean War. 610,000 houses were destroyed and 7.6 million people were separated from their family members. Social infrastructure in Korea was almost wiped out, making the prospect for full recovery and reconstruction dark and gloomy. To be specific, 43% of industrial facilities, 41% of power generation facilities, and 312km of railways were destroyed.

Korea as a recipient of foreign assistance

To help the victims of the Korean War and reconstruct the Korean society, a total of USD 12.7 billion in foreign assistance was provided, 70% of which were put to use from 1945 to 1960.

This document was handwritten by Korea's first president Seung-man Rhee to prevent a misappropriation of relief supplies.

Moreover, the President Syng-man Rhee ordered the Prime Minister to establish a "postwar reconstruction plan" after the Korean War on July 31, 1953. The document shows that the construction and expansion of national infrastructure such as cement and fertilizer factories, power plants, transportation network, and mining and shipbuilding industry was the primary goal of the plan.

Although the Korean War destroyed everything, it never discouraged the people's aspiration for education. They continued teaching and studying even in outdoor areas and streetcars.

Humanitarian assistance and reconstruction activities

With support of the United Nations Korea Reconstruction Agency (UNKRA) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), a printshop was established in Korea to manufacture textbooks.

This relief aid table shows what types of aid were given to Korea from which countries. Most of them were foods, clothes, medicine and daily necessities. A total of 36 countries including Taiwan, Costa Rica, Cambodia and Ethiopia supported Korea.

The UNKRA was established in December 1950 under the UN resolution and started its works in 1953. The conclusion of the 'Agreement for a Program of Economic Assistance to Korea' between the Korean government and the UNKRA in May 1954 set the stage for the agency to fully implement reconstruction works.

Post-war economic revival

In August 1953, the U.S. established the Office of the Economic Coordinator (OEC) under the UN Command in Korea to coordinate and manage reconstruction efforts of the Foreign Operations Administration (FOA), the Civil Relief in Korea (CRIK) and others.

The Korea Civil Assistance Command (KCAC) carried out various projects concerning transportation, telecommunications, public administration, power generation, public welfare, health, labor and rural enlightment while the UNKRA concentrated its efforts on industry, fishery, mining, housing and education. To better accomplish housing and education programs, two closely coordinated with each other.

Starting out as USD 70 million agency financed mostly by its member countries, the UNKRA injected more than USD 120 million into Korea's economic rehabilitation until 1960.

Assistance from the U.S. and the International Cooperation Agency (ICA)

The U.S. government established the International Cooperation Agency (ICA) in 1955, which took over the roles of the Foreign Operations Administration (FOA). The ICA's assistance was concentrated in the provision of equipment and raw materials for the development of mining and transportation. The scale of assistance was so huge that it had substantial impacts on Korean society in 1950s.
The annual assistance reached as high as USD 200 million from 1953 through 1961. The ICA assistance peaked in 1957 and was scaled down afterwards.

Thanks to the international community's aid, Korea could make its full recovery possible and even undergo a transition to one of donor countries in a very short period.

Korea International Cooperation Agency
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Exhibition Curator l Ran Ro

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