6.5 MILLION VULNERABLE NORTH KOREANS STILL IN DESPERATE NEED OF FOOD AID
PYONGYANG , The United Nations World Food Programme said that in 2005 it needs 500,000 tonnes of commodities, valued at US$202 million, to assist 6.5 million particularly hungry North Koreans.
"The DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] still faces severe food shortages as it seeks to diversify its economy. Our goal is to ease the shock to the most vulnerable as they make this transition," said Richard Ragan, WFP's Pyongyang-based Country Director. "Millions of children, women and elderly people are barely subsisting because they lack both the quantity and quality of nourishment they deserve."
While domestic cereals production is forecast to rise by 2.4 per cent to 4.24 million tonnes in the 2004/05 marketing year (November-October), it will remain well below the minimum requirement of 5.13 million tonnes, according to a recent assessment by WFP and its sister UN agency, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
Two-thirds of the 23.7 million population remain dependent on the government-run Public Distribution System (PDS). The PDS provides its mostly urbanised recipients with subsidised rations, which have recently been cut to 250 gms of staples per day. This is enough to meet only half their calorie needs.
The plight of the most vulnerable is aggravated by an economic adjustment process that has led to steep increases in market prices of basic foods, and sharply lower incomes for millions of factory workers rendered redundant or now employed part-time.
Some 70 per cent of PDS-dependent households are still unable to satisfy their daily calorie requirements. In 2004, market prices of cereals tripled. By year's end, one kilogram of rice cost 20 per cent of a typical monthly wage.
Traditional coping mechanisms ? animal husbandry, the cultivation of household gardens and hillside plots, the gathering of wild foods and transfers from relatives ? are being supplemented by other small-scale income-generating activities, notably petty trade and services, allowed under an easing of restrictions on private and semi-private enterprises.
In 2004, WFP aimed to feed 6.5 million people, at a cost of US$ 171 million. Since September 2004, WFP has had sufficient donations to reach the total number of people targeted for assistance. But earlier, the operation faced periodic funding gaps that were severe and which reduced the number of people being fed to as low as three million.
"Existing stocks and commitments will allow us to give full cereal rations to our beneficiaries until June," Ragan said. "But without additional pledges soon, the kind of distribution cuts that have plagued our operation over the past three years, depriving millions of vital assistance for long periods, will be inevitable."
WFP's operation in 2005 aims to feed 6.5 million people ? the same number as in 2004. The largest group to be assisted with rations are 2.7 million children in nurseries, kindergartens, primary schools and orphanages that fully or largely meet their nutritional needs. The food basket includes cereals, pulses and vegetable oil, as well as vitamin- and mineral-enriched blends, biscuits and noodles. Children in hospital are to be similarly supported.
An estimated 300,000 pregnant and nursing women will likewise receive a range of food items designed to help meet their special dietary requirements.
With food security analyses confirming that elderly PDS-dependents are especially vulnerable, WFP plans to assist more than 900,000 of them this year, including the chronically ill and disabled, the widowed, and couples living alone. Their ration of cereals is being supplemented with vegetable oil, whose prohibitively high market price has forced a sharp decline in consumption of vital fats.
The agency will continue to support the poorest urban families ? more than 360,000 people ? that were added to its list of beneficiaries last year in response to the reform-induced shifts in vulnerability.
The unemployed and underemployed are a key focus of food-for-work activities designed to promote food security in urban communities. There is mounting evidence that these people may represent a newly emerging "food insecure" group that is struggling to cope with the impact of market reforms. Over the course of the year 725,000 people are to receive a two kilogram-a-day cereal ration ? enough for themselves and two family members ? in return for engaging in short-term flood control, land reclamation, irrigation and reforestation schemes.
WFP will also supply raw materials and other inputs to 19 factories that produce micronutrient-enriched blended foods, biscuits and noodles for millions of underfed infants, children and women.
While insisting its "no access, no food" policy would continue, the agency reiterated its concern about nutritional conditions in counties and districts its staff cannot enter ? 49 out of 203, accounting for about 17 per cent of the population. WFP also expressed the hope that a government review of humanitarian operations, which forced a significant reduction in post-distribution monitoring in recent months, would not compromise its capacity to help the most vulnerable.
WFP's previous emergency operation received a total of US$120 million in funding, with the following donors: Japan (US$ 39.5 million); Republic of South Korea ($23.3 million); United States ($19 million); Australia ($6.5 million); Canada ($4.3 million); European Union ($5.5 million); Italy ($3.6 million); Germany ($2.8 million); Norway ($1.8 million); Ireland ($932,000); Luxembourg ($808,000); Cuba ($570,000); New Zealand ($523,224); Finland ($390,000) in addition to a number of multilateral and private donors.
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency. In 2003 WFP fed nearly 110 million people in 82 countries including most of the world's refugees and internally displaced people.
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