WFP has announced that officials of the Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) had indicated that the country faced a shortfall of one million metric tons of food, and expressed a new openness to receiving increased food assistance from WFP.
People are going hungry as we head into the lean season. It’s time for WFP and the donors to respond
Tony Banbury, WFP Asia Regional Director
The government conveyed these points to a senior WFP official who was conducting a five day visit to the country that concluded yesterday.
“The World Food Programme is ready to increase food assistance to the people of the DPRK,” said Tony Banbury, WFP Asia Regional Director.
“The Government officials I met indicated a new openness toward an increase of food assistance for the DPRK through WFP.”
Mr. Banbury travelled to the DPRK March 22-27 to review the current WFP operation in the country and the general food security situation.
He travelled for three days in North Phyongan province and visited twelve WFP food delivery sites and projects in Sinuju and Ryongchan cities and Yonju and Tongrim counties.
The sites the WFP mission visited included an orphanage, a child centre, a pediatric hospital, a boarding school, a public distribution centre where WFP aid was being distributed to pregnant and nursing women, two WFP-assisted community development projects and two local food production factories.
During meetings with DPRK Government officials in Pyongyang, Banbury raised issues regarding the present food security situation in DPRK, the implementation of the WFP operation, and the future status of WFP food assistance for the country of 23 million people.
Despite steady improvements in the food situation in DPRK after the famine years of the mid- to late 1990s, having enough to eat is still a daily struggle for one-third to one-half of all North Koreans.
In 2006, the food situation again started to deteriorate because of June and August flooding of critical cropland and major reductions in WFP and bilateral food assistance.
“We are losing ground in the struggle against hunger in the DPRK,” said Banbury.
“Last year’s harvest was smaller due in part to summer flooding and that, combined with major reductions in international assistance, has left millions of North Koreans more vulnerable to food insecurity. People are going hungry as we head into the lean season. It’s time for WFP and the donors to respond.”
Distributions under WFP’s present operation, which aims to feed up to 1.9 million especially vulnerable North Koreans, are threatened by lack of funding.
Donations for the operation, which began last year, amount to less than 20 percent of the US$102 million required.
An immediate increase in funding from donor nations is necessary just to avert further deterioration of food security for the present 700,000 beneficiaries of the WFP operation, while more substantial donations will allow the UN food agency to expand its food assistance from the present 29 counties in which it operates to the 50 counties called for under the WFP aid program in North Korea.
“I am concerned about the well-being of the people we are supposed to be helping but are not able to reach due to lack of resources, and I am concerned about millions more who need our help, who struggle to feed themselves day in and day out,” said Banbury.
Children: pressing needs
“Increased WFP food assistance would help address the pressing needs of the children and pregnant and nursing women that WFP is trying to help, but only if we get much-needed contributions soon.”
WFP’s programme is designed to build on gains achieved during a decade of emergency assistance. Vitamin and mineral-enriched foods processed at local factories are being given to young children and pregnant and nursing women.
Cereal rations are being provided to families through food-for-community-development projects aimed at reclaiming cropland and rehabilitating local agricultural infrastructure.
Past WFP operations delivered more than four million tons of food valued at US$1.7 billion and supported up to one-third of the North Korean population, contributing to a significant reduction in malnutrition rates over a decade beginning in 1995.
Still, the most recent large-scale nutrition survey conducted by WFP, UNICEF and the government in October, 2004, found 37 percent of young children to be chronically malnourished and one-third of mothers both malnourished and anaemic.