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WFP hails arrival of Russian wheat shipment for North Korea's hungry


PYONGYANG - The United Nations World Food Programme today welcomed the arrival of a major shipment of Russian food aid that will help support millions of malnourished children and women in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea over the coming weeks. The donation is the largest part of an $11 million dollar contribution by Russia, it's first ever through WFP.

On Sunday, the ship MV Kallisto began discharging its cargo of 34,700 metric tons of wheat, valued at US$10 million, soon after docking at the west coast port of Nampo.

"Not only are we are deeply grateful for this vital donation by the Russian Federation, but we are delighted that one of the world's key nations has joined our family of donors," said Richard Ragan, WFP Country Director for the DPRK. "We look forward to developing a long-term partnership."

"This assistance enables us to resume cereal distributions to nearly two million hungry people who have been struggling to get by without our help in recent months."

WFP appealed for 484,000 tons of commodities to help feed 6.5 million of the most vulnerable North Koreans during 2004. To date it has received confirmed pledges amounting to 125,000 tons.

A fall-off in donations since mid-2002 has forced WFP to halt crucial, supplemental rations to millions of designated recipients for long periods. In June and July, more than two million of the agency's "core" beneficiaries, including large numbers of kindergarten and primary school children and pregnant and nursing women, were deprived of cereal rations.

These and others - children in orphanages, hospitals and nurseries and poor urban households - will receive Russian wheat. So too will survivors of last April's deadly train explosion at Ryongchon near the border with China, which claimed more than 170 lives, injured some 1,300 and made almost 8,000 homeless.

Part of the shipment is destined for WFP-supported factories that produce nutritious foods for infants, children and child-bearing women.

However, 300,000 elderly people will continue having to make do without WFP cereal rations.

"Russia's generosity provides much-needed relief. But as things stand, there is little aid in the pipeline for the latter months of the year," Ragan said. "We urgently need firm commitments to plug that gap."

The downturn in food donations risks eroding precious gains in nutritional standards. A survey by the government, UNICEF and WFP, conducted in late 2002, showed that four out of ten North Korean children suffered from chronic malnutrition, or stunting, compared to six out of ten in a 1998 assessment.

While increased agricultural production in recent years has reduced the DPRK's cereals deficit, and the need for external assistance, its food crisis is likely to persist owing to limited potential for higher output.

Urban residents outside the relatively privileged capital, Pyongyang, heavily reliant on a Public Distribution System (PDS) providing 300 grams of food a day - less than half a survival ration - are worst affected by the domestic shortfall.

Some 70 per cent of PDS-dependent households are unable to cover their daily calorie requirements. Much of the population is afflicted by critical dietary deficiencies, consuming very little protein, fat and micronutrients.

Economic adjustments initiated in mid-2002 have aggravated disparities in access to basic foods between better-off rural populations and those in urban areas accounting for some two-thirds of the country's 23 million people.

WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency: in 2003 we gave food aid to a record 104 million people in 81 countries, including 56 million hungry children.

WFP Global School Feeding Campaign For just 19 US cents a day, you can help WFP give children in poor countries a healthy meal at school - a gift of hope for a brighter future.

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Richard Ragan
Tel +850-2-3817 220

Gerald Bourke
Tel +850-2-3817 219

Brenda Barton
Tel +39-06-65132602
Mob +39-3472582217

Gregory Barrow
Tel +44-20-75929292
Mob +44-7968-008474

Christiane Berthiaume
Tel +41-22-9178564
Mob +41-79-2857304

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

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