Sign up today to join our online community, receive email alerts, and make a difference!

WFP emergency measures in DPRK: food supplies partially resume but more urgently needed


PYONGYANG WFP announced today that it has taken extraordinary measures to partially resume food supplies to North Korea's hungriest people. But it warned that 1.5 million vulnerable people will still go hungry over the next six weeks, and that without additional donations soon, millions of malnourished will be deprived of food in the second half of the year.

A recent round of severe food aid shortages have greatly aggravated an already severe humanitarian crisis in North Korea.

"Our ability to borrow commodities to cover this month means that we can now resume cereal distributions to most - but not all - of the 6.5 million children, women and elderly identified as particularly needy," said Masood Hyder, WFP Representative for the DPRK.

"But it's critical to remember that this is only a partial and temporary solution, as the loans will have to be repaid as soon as possible from future donor contributions to WFP."

Food supplies through WFP, by far the largest aid agency in the country, have become increasingly irregular over the past two years, causing large-scale and frequent ration suspensions. The food shortages reached a new, unprecedented low at the beginning of February, when WFP could only provide enough cereal to feed 85,000 women and children a tiny fraction of the 6.5 million North Koreans considered most at risk. Cereals are the main staple of the food aid ration.

Following an urgent appeal by WFP on 9 February - the latest in a series since mid-2002 -more contributions have been received, most recently from Germany, New Zealand, Canada and Norway.

These funds, together with a donation of 60,000 tons of food aid from the United States and important contributions from the European Commission and Australia, will provide crucially needed assistance. However, deliveries will only start arriving in April and will not last very long.

WFP's operation in the DPRK requires an average of 40,000 tonnes of food a month, costing more than US$14 million.

James Morris, WFP Executive Director, expressed thanks for the donations from several countries and the EC, but noted that much more food would be needed this year if WFP was to avoid further cuts in aid to its neediest beneficiaries.

The partial resumption of distributions is largely due to the DPRK government's positive response to WFP's request for a loan - one of a number of urgent initiatives made by WFP to address the immediate shortfall. The Pyongyang authorities have now agreed to make available 25,000 tonnes of cereals from the country's limited strategic stocks, normally used for their Public Distribution System (PDS).

"This is a significant development," Hyder said. "The DPRK cannot produce enough to feed its own people, and has to try to stretch out last autumn's rice and maize harvests over an entire year. The government's willingness to lend from its scarce stocks testifies to the steady improvement in our relationship, and the importance it attaches to WFP's work."

The government-run Public Distribution System, which essentially serves the 70 percent of the 23 million population living in urban areas, provides recipients with an average of 300 grams of cereals a day - less than half the internationally recommended minimum. The ration is likely to decrease over the coming months as national stocks are depleted.

Notwithstanding WFP's stop-gap borrowings from the DPRK and other sources, 1.5 million of its 4.2 million "core" beneficiaries will still have to make do without the agency's cereal rations for the next six weeks. Scheduled shipments will reduce that number to 600,000 in April-May, but without further commitments soon, the number of people without food will rise again to one million in June and to almost three million in August.

"Given the long lead time between food aid donations and deliveries - routinely three to four months - we need pledges now in order to feed the hungriest of the hungry in the latter part of the year as well as to repay loans," Hyder said.

"The impact of this unfortunate ‘stop-go' means of providing food aid is very damaging," Hyder said.

With little or no WFP assistance available, some nurseries and kindergartens have been forced to close down, while others have cut from three to two the number of meals they provide to the children.

Last week, two WFP-assisted factories producing fortified noodles for child-bearing women were obliged to suspend operations after their stocks of WFP wheat flour ran out. Several other facilities manufacturing enriched foods for underfed children are threatened with the same fate.

"Precious but precarious gains made in improving nutritional standards risk being wiped out," Hyder said. "Without food aid, moderately malnourished children quickly become severely malnourished, while mothers giving birth to underweight babies are less able to breast-feed them. This reinforces the cycle of inherited hunger."

A large-scale survey conducted in October 2002 by WFP, UNICEF and the DPRK government found 42 per cent of young children and 33 per cent of mothers to be chronically malnourished.

WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency. In 2003 WFP fed nearly 104 million people in 81 countries including most of the world's refugees and internally displaced people.

WFP Global School Feeding Campaign -- As the largest provider of nutritious meals to poor school children, WFP has launched a global campaign aimed at ensuring the world's 300 million undernourished children are educated.

For more information please contact:

Gerald Bourke
Tel: +85-02-3817 298

Brenda Barton
Tel: +39-06-65132602
Cell: +39-347-2582217

Trevor Rowe
WFP/New York
Tel: +1-212-9635196
Cell: +1-646-8241112

Jordan Dey
Tel: +1-202-6530010 ext. 1149
Cell: +1-202-4223383

Christiane Berthiaume
Tel: +41-22-9178564
Cell: +41-79-2857304

Gregory Barrow
Cell: +44-7968 008474