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North Korea: a political agreement is reached, but still no response to the humanitarian crisis

While the breakthrough at the Six Party-talks with the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea (DPRK) envisages renewed discussions on economic and humanitarian aid, there are to date no indications that critically needed shipments of food aid are to resume.

While the breakthrough at the Six Party-talks with the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea (DPRK) envisages renewed discussions on economic and humanitarian aid, there are to date no indications that critically needed shipments of food aid are to resume.

Such shipments are crucial to enable the DPRK to cover its national food deficit – estimated at over one million tons this year – and to prevent hunger among the most vulnerable of North Koreans.

Food could run out

The WFP food assistance programme in North Korea is currently only 18 percent funded (US$18.6 million of a planned US$102 million) and is feeding only 40 percent of the 1.9 million people it aims to feed.

Without further funding, WFP food supplies will run out in early June, resulting in increased malnutrition.

Hidden malnutrition

Vulnerable groups and food insecure regions are currently experiencing a second consecutive winter without enough food supplies, according to WFP Country Director Jean-Pierre DeMargerie. The winter season is traditionally characterised by “hidden” malnutrition” problems.

Vulnerable North Koreans have inadequate access to food supplies and rely on a poorly balanced diet, deficient in vitamins and minerals.

WFP first came to North Korea 12 years ago in response to a humanitarian crisis stemming from wide-scale food insecurity in the mid 90s. Since 1995, WFP has delivered over 4 million tons of food aid, mostly cereals, to the DPRK, and in 2005 was feeding 6.5 million people in the country – almost a third of the population.

Smaller programme

Emergency assistance ended after the government, citing better harvests and domestic concerns about a dependency culture and the intrusiveness of monitoring, declared it would in future accept only assistance that addressed medium and long-term needs.

An agreement signed in May 2006 between WFP and DPRK led to a resumption of distributions under a two-year programme to combat nutritional deficiencies and boost grassroots food security.

Today's WFP programme in the DPRK is much smaller than the Emergency Feeding Operation that started 12 years ago. WFP now provides a relatively small amount of food aid (less than 40,000 tons in 2006 out of a total DPRK requirement of more than 1 million tons from external sources).

Beneficiaries

Today's programme is designed to reach a smaller, more targeted group of most vulnerable populations within DPRK.

Under the present DPRK programme, WFP produces and distributes food assistance to children in schools, to pregnant and lactating women, and young children in hospitals and orphanages.

WFP-contracted factories in North Korea produce vitamin-fortified biscuits for school populations and corn-soy milk and cereal and rice-milk blends appropriate for pregnant and lactating women and young children.